Brazil’s Agricultural Explosion Continues in 'Mapitoba'

South American farm operations move into new territories

I've done it.

I somehow convinced the editors of Farm Futures to run my story on "Secrets of the Brazilian Mega-Farmers" in the January issue. So check out the print version of Farm Futures – in mailboxes soon.

The story includes coverage of how farmers from Brazil's southernmost—and most immigrant-heavy—state came to lead the agricultural revolution that made the South American country out-produce us in soybeans.

But as I put the article together, I ran across some Brazilian farmers in the hinterlands who didn't fit the mold. And this blog is about one of them: My friend José Edigar Andrade.

Andrade breaks the mold. His farm is in the newest portion of Brazil's agricultural expansion, which, most agree, lies at the knot of borders of the Brazilian states of Tocantins, Piuaí, Maranhhão, and Bahia. But unlike the ag entrepreneurs who more famously settled Mato Grosso state, he farms in "Mapitoba" - a word that comes from the first two letters of each of the states in the region.

"The Fazenda Breijinho Farms," says co-owner JoséEdigar Andrade, "aren't like those that you see in most of the new frontier. It's a relatively small place, unlike what you get in several parts of  Mato Grosso, southern Goiás, Bahia, Maranhão and Piauí states."

Up there, you get big farms, and even enormous ag properties run by landed families or companies of investors—but not in the same proportion as seen in some other parts of Brazil. In Tocantins specifically, there are few operations, in Andrade's view, that are larger than 12,000 acres of crops. While that, in itself, is pretty big, it's less than half the rural area owned or controlled by the Mato Grosso subjects of the January print piece in Farm Futures

Breijinho is 6,670 acres—with 35 percent automatically set aside as environmental reserve per Brazilian law, aside from strips along streams and atop hills.

"The farm began in 1945," says Andrade, "when my father-in-law, João Damasceno de Sá, started extensive cattle production in the area. The crop production began tentatively, with the first rice crop coming only in 1988." And that change only came about as the family grew; later generations included agronomists like Andrade, who wanted to "give an upgrade" to the farm's production numbers drawing on the latest agricultural tech.

Nowadays the family practices crop-livestock integration, plants 2,890 acres of no-till soybeans, and 1,680 acres of second-crop corn. There's also an additional 740 acres of sorghum planted as a second crop, and 445 acres of pasture. If they can find the space, the family also likes to plant millet as a cover. 

On top of that, they've diversified into latex production, planting 370 acres of rubber trees, of which the first 23 acres planted started producing in 2013. The goal is get to a total of 440 acres. 

And, given the fact that the rubber trees don't begin to produce latex until their sixth year, Andrade and the family plant soybeans between the rows of trees for the first three years after planting the new saplings.

It's proof that while large, horizon-to-horizon Brazilian soybean farms are impressive, they are not representative of all of the country's agriculture. There are indeed places where innovation continues beyond getting soybeans to grow. The move from cattle ranch to integrated crop-livestock production on the Brejinho farm is an example—and the constant search for new money crops.

Next installment: Cattle production on the Brejinho Farm…and what else has changed in the 40 years since the operation was started in what later turned out to be Brazil's newest agricultural frontier.

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