interview the soybean producers in the frontier

By Monday July 4th, I have been in Brazil almost a week. Except a few meetings, I have not been able to visit any farm or soybean related agents. When my colleagues told me we were gonna visit a farm that day, I was over-excited! Finally I can do some work 🙂

 

The approaches we use in China and Brazil are very different. In China we show up in a village and knock on farmer’s door, hoping that they would be willing to talk to us. Usually they do. Sometimes I got kicked out of their house — it’s still better then chased out by dogs, like some of my colleagues. Usually a village has around 100 households- some are bigger with 200, some are smaller with 50. We try to have 20 interviews at each village. In Brazil, however, there’s no village that farmers live together (each of them owns a huge land), so we have to call each individual and make appointment.

 

The interview was set at 2pm, and we left the hotel at 9am that morning in order to make it on time (yes, it’s some long and tedious driving on unpaved road again)..We had a big breakfast because we knew there’s no place to have lunch. Before this drive, I only saw cerrado, and have not seen any plantation yet. So when the first cleared land showed up, I was in an awe. It is huge! The cleared land goes as far as you can see, to the edge of the landscape..

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landscape without edge, see as far as you can

 

We finally arrived the place, which is a very nice courtyard with a few colourful buildings and storage places inside. A very tall guy came out and greeted us. We four went inside the yard and sat in his office, he also asked his stuff to bring in coffee and cookies. I was trying really hard to follow the conversation, but I have to admit that for the two hours, I’ve only understood one question “Are the workers here from local or other places?” The most awkward part is that when the manager looking at me and talking, I couldn’t tell if he’s expecting me to react…So I have to put on a smile for two hours, and whenever he looked at me, I’ll just nod..And this happened with the second farmer we interviewed, and the third, the fourth..At the end of the interview, my cheek muscles were so sour that I don’t want to smile ever..

 

Talking back to the farm. They have 9600 hectares on this land. How large is 9600 hectares, hmm, so usually Chinese farmers have 1 or 2 hectares per family (and this is in Heilongjiang, the average land is the highest; if it’s in the south, a family only has .5 hectare). The average farm size of Canada is around 300 hectares, and for French farms, this number is 240 ha. The main campus of University of Waterloo is 400 hectares (I’m not sure the definition of main campus, i think it’s more than the ring road). This farm uses 4000 hectares to grow soybeans, the other 4000 hectares to grow cotton, and they’re still developing 1600 hectares.

 

Actually, the real owner of the farm is a brother and sister who do not live on site. They hired a professional management company to help them run this property. This brother and sister also has some huge land in other states too..They have a small airplane on the property to apply agro-chemical. They have a team of technicians to test the seeds a year prior they plant them and to check the plants every three days to prevent virus expansion. Basically it’s an enterprise. Monsanto has developed some new seeds that do not require any fertilizer and pesticide, the price of which is also higher.

 

The soil on cerrado is not really good for any crop. After first clearing the cerrado, the soil needs a year or two to be ready to grow any crop. Usually the first few years they will grow rice, and then it’s alright to grow more profitable commercial crops like soybeans or corn. Cotton has a very high revenue — three times more than soybean even, however, it also requires much more preparation and input. Six tons of lime is needed to grow soybeans per hectare, and this number goes up to 10 tons when we talk about cotton, along with other inputs. Moreover, you need to prepare the soil for at least five years before you can grow cotton on the cleared cerrado. Therefore this is the only cotton farm that I’ve seen during my trip in Brazil.

 

It was a successful interview and lasted for over two hours. After that we drove back to the small hotel in Mateiros. It was almost 6:00 pm when we got back. So for a two hour interview, we spent 7 hours on road..I was very hungry and covered by dust. We have had nothing since breakfast. Everyone agreed to meet in the lobby around 7 to get dinner, but I was just too hungry to wait another half hour and I felt my hands were shaky because of low blood sugar. I walked out of the hotel by myself to the nearest gas station since I remember there was a convenience store. It was closed! Holy crap how could it be closed!! Some guy from next door came out and spoke to me in Portugues, and I do not understand him. Then I kept walking, I found a small juice bar and I asked if they have food. The owner said no, they only have juice. Then I kept walking, to the restaurant where we had dinner the night before. It, again, was closed. I came back to my hotel room, opened the fridge, trying to find some beer. There is none. No fucking beer.

 

Then I started crying. I was extremely hungry — I can’t deal with hunger very well. I was in a middle of no where that I can’t even find any food or beer. I was tired from travelling and living with my suitcase for two months. I had no permanent address. I was lonely and I can’t just go and hug my colleagues. I was not sure how to build up an ABM that has tele-coupling features. I had no idea what data I need for the model to guide the interviews. I have revision to do for my dissertation. I am 30 years old. I am single. I miss my friends. I want to talk to Victor but there’s stupid time difference and he’s sleeping now. I don’t know how well i can settle in Lansing without knowing anyone.

 

I cried for five or ten minutes. Then it’s almost 7. I washed my face, put on some lotion, and walked out of the door to meet my colleagues for dinner. Tomorrow we got another interviewscheduled, better be ready for it.

 

More stories to come.