Could Brazil-U.S. Ag Partnership Work?

South American Crop Watch

Lawmakers call for stronger ties With Brazil

Published on: August 9, 2013

I remember my boss coming into my office back when I worked at a major U.S. ag commodity association. The conversation didn't start off with small talk. He was upset because I had proposed Americans and Brazilians work together to increase demand for Ag products worldwide.

After all, besides pears, cranberries and hops, there aren't many commodities produced in the America but not in Brazil. And it seemed to me there were lots of issues we could address together.

Now it appears U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack agrees that the old days of protesting a U.S. crusher for importing some Brazilian beans to keep the plant running, are gone. Vilsack recently led a delegation of 20 U.S. congressmen and senators to see how the world's top producers of soybeans, corn and ethanol might work together.

Senator Kátia Abreu, head of the Brazilian National Agriculture Confederation, with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. (Photo courtesy CAN)
Senator Kátia Abreu, head of the Brazilian National Agriculture Confederation, with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. (Photo courtesy CAN)

"My message to Brazilian farmers is very simple," he said in the capital city of Brasília. "We do not see them as competitors, but as partners."

And it wasn't just Sec. Vilsack. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Missouri Senator Roy Blunt were with him when the group visited Brazilian Senator Kátia Abreu, who moonlights as head of Brazil's National Agriculture Confederation.

Stabenow said she thought one of the best places for cooperation was in lowering European resistance to biotech foods.

And that may be a good idea: with more than 90 million acres of biotech crops produced last year, Brazil took the title of fastest-growing biotech producer, while the USA holds the title of largest biotech producer.

But it goes beyond biotech. Brazil and the U.S. are the world's two top producers of ethanol, soybeans, orange juice and broiler meat and beef. The two countries are among the world's top three corn producers, and they're the third and fourth-largest tobacco producers in the world. While that might look like a script for fierce competition, it really may not be. 

At least one U.S. soybean-producing state is working with its counterparts in Brazil and other bean-producing countries to build overall demand in other markets for vegetable protein—as in India.

The U.S. still holds an advantage over Brazil, and that lies in better infrastructure that can get agricultural products to consumers more cheaply. But much of that infrastructure is creaking, with no money in sight to modernize locks and dams.

Until there are infrastructure improvements, people like Senators Stabenow and Abreu may have the right idea that a rising tide lifts all boats.