Soils in Argentina and Brazil can grow good crops with little fertilizer. Both countries have fewer pest and disease problems.
Farm laborers work cheap, and chemical costs are low. Brazil's growing season, too, is much longer than Georgia's.
“I'm scared,” said Donald Wood, a farmer from Rochelle, Ga., on a study trip to the South American countries. “These guys have a lot of things going for them. It's going to be tough for us (to compete).”
Wood and 14 other Georgia farmers traveled with four University of Georgia experts to study agriculture in the two countries in January. Georgia Farm Bureau co-sponsored the trip.
“Agriculture in Brazil and Argentina has made great strides in recent years,” said Gale Buchanan, former dean of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “These countries are already serious agricultural producers.”
Brazilian and Argentine farmers could become global competitors for U.S. farmers, said Nathan Smith, an economist with the UGA Extension Service. “This area could become the breadbasket of the world.”
Brazil is about as big as the continental United States. Argentina is nearly a third of the size of Brazil.
Soybeans are the major crop in the area, Smith said. Farmers there also grow corn, cotton and peanuts, all major Georgia commodities. Cooperatives there add value to commodities and save on costs, too.
The group toured the state of Parana in Brazil and the provinces of Chaco and Cordoba in Argentina. “These are especially intense agricultural regions,” Buchanan said.
They spoke with farmers, agribusiness people and university and government officials. They visited farms, research stations and farmer-owned cooperatives in both countries.
They found that U.S. and Georgia farmers have advantages, too.
The transportation infrastructure is much better in the United States, Smith said. Farmers have easier access to capital for growth. Interest rates are lower, and markets are better and more established.
Both countries have national agriculture departments. But the U.S. and Georgia agricultural research and Extension services are much more developed, Buchanan said.
Brazilian and Argentine agricultural officials and farmers often take U.S. research and apply it to farms there, Smith said. Or they come to the United States to learn it.
This type of sharing goes both ways. U.S. scientists now are taking trips to Brazil, for instance, to learn how to handle an aggressive and deadly soybean disease called Asian Soybean Rust.
Government support of certain commodities through legislative farm bills is a plus for U.S. farmers, too, Buchanan said.
(In 2002, Brazil filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization that claimed certain U.S. cotton subsidies violated WTO regulations. WTO ruled in favor of Brazil in 2004. The United States filed an appeal. It has since been reported that the WTO ruled against that appeal.)
Despite the differences, Wood said, there was something universally familiar about both countries.
“The people we talked to were very eager to share their information with us … and ask us questions about what we're doing,” Wood said. “That's the case with farmers wherever they are.”
Ed Kanemasu, director of the UGA office of international agriculture, helped organize the trip. Miguel Cabrera, a CAES crop and soil scientist and Uruguay native fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, coordinated the tours and acted as translator.