Once again, Asian soybean rust is back with a vengeance for our South American neighbors in Brazil.
I just returned from a weeklong trip to the west-central area of Bahia state, in eastern Brazil. As we drove from the almost endless fields of soybeans near Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, big 4WD sprayers and crop dusters were running full tilt on both sides of Hwy BR020, a 335-mile road that connects Brasilia to Luis Eduardo.
The day before we left, Mike Gretter, an Iowa farmer who has been farming in Bahia since 2002, had just gotten confirmation from the local lab that his fields were infected. With the alarm sounded, other vigilant farmers knew their turn was next.
Tyler Bruch, who writes a column for this magazine (see “Our Farm,” page 19) and who also farms near Gretter in Luis Eduardo, was prepared to begin spraying, too. He has scouts checking fields every day during this time of year.
It's no secret in Brazil that when disease hits, farmers spray, then spray again. In fact, Bruch says that on some of his cotton fields, it's likely they'll spray up to 20 times.
Spraying for rust in Brazil has become as common as spraying for weeds here in the Midwest.
But many of the challenges American farmers face in Brazil are far from ordinary, at least by U.S. standards.
For example, as we're riding in a van to our next farm visit, Bruch has our group of eight farmers roaring over some wacky things he's encountered over the last couple years that he never faced back on his family's Emmetsburg, IA, operation. Here are a few of those stories.
He recently had a lightbar stolen from his tractor, and he guessed more than likely by one of his 35 employees. He immediately called the police and knew enough to grease the wheels of justice with a $1,000 incentive. Because of that, within a couple of hours the police had interrogated several employee suspects (yep, with a light, a gun and knife) to find the culprit. The thief rolled over quickly.
The lightbar was recovered and reinstalled on the tractor. The thief, who'd only been employed for four months, is now serving 3.8 years at the local crowbar motel.
Finding good help, like here in the U.S., hits a new level in Brazil. Training workers never ends. “It sounds goofy, but I actually had to tell workers they didn't need to jack up the tractor to put air in the tires,” Bruch says while laughing hysterically.
“I once had workers put lug nuts back on a tractor so tight that they stripped the threads,” he says. “So now, fixing a flat is going to be a two-day job instead of a two-hour job. It gets exasperating.”
Another time, Bruch tells of driving back to the farm from Brasilia and the brakes went out on his pickup. Police had set up a checkpoint and were stopping all vehicles. “I shifted down as fast as I could, but I still rolled through the stop. When I finally got stopped, I turned around and the cops were on me, guns drawn. I said okay, okay, don't shoot, my brakes are just a little weak.” Fortunately, he speaks fluent Portuguese and they let him go. In truth, he admits he had no brakes at all.
Well, the stories didn't end. One after another, like the 10 local guys that were in jail and escaped one night by all shoving on a wall at the same time and pushing it down.
Living and farming in Brazil truly is an adventure — every day. You can read more about those challenges by watching for Bruch's column “Our Farm.”
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Be sure to stop in for the early riser session called “Marketing In Wild Times” at Commodity Classic in Tampa, March 3 at 7:30-9:00 a.m. The session is sponsored by The Corn And Soybean Digest and features Al Kluis, Profits columnist, and Doug Harper, with Brock Associates. Tyler Bruch will also let you know about how the markets are affecting his farming operation in Bahia, Brazil.