Mato Grosso expansion pioneer dies

The original 'soybean king' was key to Brazil's transformation into Ag powerhouse

Have you read the obituary for Dean Kleckner, the Iowa farm kid who grew up to head the Farm Bureau, and, later negotiate the GATT Agreement and serve as adviser to three presidents?

The Brazilians are mourning the recent passing of another octogenarian who changed their country's agriculture: Olacyr de Moraes, Brazil's original "Soybean King," who passed away this month. And even if the pronunciation of his name escapes you, Olacyr de Moraes changed your life—if you produce soybeans, corn or cotton.

Mr. Mato Grosso
Most Americans, when they think of Brazil's powerhouse Ag state of Mato Grosso, think of that state's federal senator and former governor, Blairo Maggi. But before there was Blairo, there was Olacyr, with 99,000 acres of beans followed by 49,000 acres of second-crop corn.

The visionary got to that vast, empty state in the 1970s, and set up Mato Grosso's biggest sugarcane ethanol plant, funding genetic research for greater sugar production per hectare from his own pocket at a time when nobody believed in the state's Ag future.  Then he did the same with cotton. Oh yeah, and he dumped millions into building a rail line that would connect his remote state with the main Brazilian port at Santos.

Maggi called the man a "visionary."

A barren state
One Mato Grosso bean producer was a pilot in the 1970s, when Olacyr de Moraes started doing his thing in that barren state. Since then, Ademir Rostirolla decided to park the plane and pick up the keys to the combine for his own farm in Mato Grosso.

"Mato Grosso owes its great increase in cotton production to Olacyr," Rostirolla told me. "He imported seed from Israel and the U.S., and developed his own variety, which, for years and years, was the most popular variety produced here in Mato Grosso. In my view, he should be revered for what he did to transform the Cerrado into a major food and fiber producer."

Later on, the de Moraes empire fell apart, and a later Soybean King—Blairo Maggi—bought up Olacyr's big Mato Grosso farm.

But as long as the dance lasted, there was nobody who did more to turn the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso into a common word heard in farm households across the U.S.—including Dean Kleckner's home in Floyd County, Iowa.

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