Minnesota farmer-leader worried that infrastructure gains could shrink window for U.S. soy exports
The United States is the world’s leading soybean producer, and right now it has the rivers, roads and rails to move all those soybeans from field to market. However, this status may not be sustained without continued investment in the U.S. transportation system. Brazilian soybean farmers continue to gain on their U.S. counterparts, and the country has big plans to improve its ability to move more soybeans into export position.
Recently, three soy checkoff farmer leaders and two American Soybean Association (ASA) farmer-leaders spent time in Brazil to see firsthand the status of Brazil’s infrastructure. They saw advancements that are being made now, along with improvements still in the planning stage. Altogether, these projects could improve Brazil’s ability to compete with the U.S. on the global market.
Jim Call, checkoff farmer-leader and soybean farmer from Madison, Minn., was one of the Americans to observe the developments.
“Before visiting Brazil, I doubted if the country could compete with the U.S.’s transportation abilities,” says Call. “However, after seeing our number one competitor up-close, I realized Brazil’s progress could affect the way U.S. soybean farmers do business.”
The group’s first stop was Cuiaba, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. This area is located in the heart of South America and is one of the key production farming areas in Brazil. The farmers met with agribusinesses, political leaders and associations, including APROSOJA, which is Brazil’s largest soybean cooperative.
The group then traveled north to Belém to meet with navigation industry representatives. They learned that a floating terminal is being built in Belém, and it should be operational in January.
Afterward, the farmers headed east toward the coast to Sao Luis. There, they visited the Port of Itaqui to see export elevators, meet with river transport providers and learn about rail developments in the area. The Port of Itaqui is the number one port in northeastern Brazil and fifth overall in volume. One of the factors contributing to this port’s importance is its proximity to the Panama Canal.
Next, the group traveled inland to Santarém, where they toured the Port of Santarem. Ninety percent of the grain arriving to this port comes by barge, while the rest comes by truck — there are no plans at this time to invest in railways to the location. In addition to visiting the port, the farmers also toured a Cargill export elevator in the area.
The farmers ended the mission in Barcarena, where they saw Bunge and ADM export elevators. During visits to the elevators, Call and his fellow farmers learned that Cargill is currently undergoing an expansion, and ADM has plans in the works to grow as well.
“As a visitor to the country, I was impressed by Brazil’s plans — everyone we met with talked about increasing and expanding production,” says Call. “As a U.S. soybean farmer, I was concerned about what these changes will mean for the U.S. soy industry. The production growth in northern Brazil and the country’s deep and extensive river systems are especially threatening.
“If Brazil can capitalize on these opportunities, it could mean a shorter export window for the U.S. To maintain our current competitive advantage, we need to invest in our transportation infrastructure now.”