Once upon a time, American soybean growers were largely unchallenged as the world’s top producers. In the 1960s, they controlled 80% of the global soybean market. Today, Brazil has closed the gap—combined, it and the U.S. are now responsible for 80% of the world’s soybean exports, according to 2016 data from the USDA.
Tom Kentner, a director with the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) in Vermilion County and longtime AGCO owner and operator, believes competition between the two countries will continue to increase, even with Brazil’s recent economic troubles and serious obstacles presented by the country’s need for additional infrastructure. However, he notes, demand for soy remains on the upswing.
Last winter, Kentner traveled to China, where soybeans have become a major source of protein in the Asian diet. “China’s demand is going to continue to grow,” he adds.
To capture such markets and grow share, Kentner believes U.S. farmers need to be proactive. “[The ISA] is continuing to reach out to markets and find out what end users need,” he says.
In addition to a perhaps friendlier, tropical growing climate, Brazilian producers have another advantage over North Americans—land that is less expensive overall. A major stumbling block for Brazil, however, is infrastructure. “During the last 30 years, many farmers went broke trying to survive the bad logistics for transportation, a lack of crop insurance as Americans and Europeans have, and bad support from local and federal governments,” explains Brazilian farmer Ricardo Manoel Arioli Silva. “The pioneering price was very high.”
Yet, despite such hurdles, Brazil is a competitor that’s within striking distance. “We all expect a better transportation system in the coming years,” Silva says. “New river ports and waterways are in development right now in the north and northeast region. We believe we will have better freight prices and more competition after these new corridors are in place.”
“Everybody believes Brazil will be No. 1 in the world’s soybean production,” Silva remarks. “Brazil is the only place that [can] increase production area over pastureland. It’s just a matter of time.”
On the other hand, Kentner feels American soybeans represent “a stable, reliable supply of high quality.” The U.S. also benefits from a “vast infrastructure system,” he says, though he’s quick to point out that system needs upgrading.
“We’ve not been putting money into locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers,” he adds. “We need to be funding infrastructure improvements to keep ahead of our competition.”
Still, Kentner believes that as long as American farmers remain proactive they’ll continue to hold a competitive edge. “The U.S. is able to supply the beans when countries are looking for them,” he explains. “The U.S. is a global leader in soybean production.”
To read this story in its entirety, see Bean Boom Or Bust: Brazil’s Battle to Be Soybean King.
The Farm is a special place in California’s Salinas Valley. Including a 15-acre demonstration plot situated just off busy Highway 68, it’s peppered with large murals by artist John Cerney that depict the largely immigrant labor force responsible for making Monterey County “the Salad Bowl of the World.” Begun in the 1920s by Chris Bunn’s grandfather, The Farm and surrounding farmland benefit from Monterey County’s long growing season, which runs March through November and allows the valley’s producers to double crop.
“It’s an alluvial valley,” says Bunn. “It doesn’t get really hot or really cold.” It’s the ideal climate for growing an array of crops, and the Bunns grow four different varieties of produce over the entirety of their 300-acre farm. At the farmstead, where they maintain a “demonstration farm” for visitors and school groups, they produce 35 different crops, the big ones being corn, tomatoes, pumpkins and strawberries.
The Bunns farm both owned and leased land. “Everything here is farmed patchwork,” says Bunn. “Nobody farms contiguous like in the Midwest.” That’s because land is so hard to come by. In the Salinas Valley, it’s not unusual to see producers cultivating land almost up to the doorstep of their homes.
“If you couldn’t double-crop this ground,” Bunn adds, “it wouldn’t be worth it.” Adding to the value of what’s grown on the land, Bunn and family are organic farmers (certified by California Certified Organic Farmers) and have been for nearly three decades. “It’s not a philosophical choice,” says Bunn. “It’s about economics.”
Smart decisions are a hallmark of Bunn’s operation, including his choice of farm equipment. He uses three Challenger® tractors on his farm, all purchased in 2009. “Soil compaction in our Blanco adobe soil conditions is extremely important,” he says, “and the Challengers all float across our fields with great comfort and speed like ships on the sea!” He also appreciates their power, fuel efficiency and ease of use in many roles on the farm.
Despite a popular misperception, cheap labor is not what drives this region of the country to employ so many immigrants. What does spur the hiring of immigrant workers is that most longtime residents in the area don’t want to work in the fields.
Bunn says strawberry pickers in the valley, for example, typically earn $1.20 per case. “A good picker can pick 100 cases a day,” he says. That translates into a wage of $120 a day during harvest season. It’s “back-breaking work,” Bunn acknowledges, and farmers like him have suggested that’s why native-born citizens aren’t inclined to apply for it.
For Bunn, immigrant labor is critical, as it is for many producers in California and elsewhere. “Labor is one of the most expensive and important inputs for agriculture [here],” he remarks. “With commodity crops, it takes one person per 1,000 acres; for us, it’s one to two people per 10 acres.”
For video, photos and more of the story, visit A Farmer’s Perspective: Immigrant Workers and Their Critical Role.
Quite possibly better educated and prepared than any generation before them, young producers still face major challenges in getting off the ground. For this FarmLife Special Report, we asked several young farmers about their challenges and goals, then listened as each spoke of hard lessons learned, their passion for farming and hopes for the future.
Three families are featured in profile stories and video interviews: the Skobergs, who grow peas, wheat and canola on Twin Oaks Farm in Lougheed, Alberta; the Robertses, who farm and run a fencing and custom gate business in Pittsylvania County, Virginia; and the Boeres, whose dairy operation is in Modesto, California. Each has a unique story to tell, including the innovative ways they have made a life and a living on the farm.
To go along with the family profiles, the Young Farmers Special Report includes advice from parents, resources to help young and new farmers, a look back at our previous special report and more.
In the article “Raising Farmers,” father Jerry McDonald and son Jon—now a father himself—offer advice on preparing the next generation for a career in agriculture. You’ll also read about how the National Young Farmers Coalition works to connect beginning farmers with resources, such as information on loans and subsidies.
See the entire special report, including video interviews: Young Farmers: Growing Their Future And Ours
Brian Fuller plows snow and maintains right-of-ways, the kind of work that is often not seen and/or noticed by most of us. It’s hot, it’s freezing. It’s mind-numbingly tedious. It’s treacherous. And, yes, it’s often overlooked, until he and his crew at Fuller Landscaping clear the way for the rest of us, who might just be stranded otherwise.
Fuller and his crew, who primarily work for the city of Fort Collins, Colo., and the state’s Department of Transportation, have encountered rattlesnakes, cars and trucks piloted by drivers who are texting, and very steep hills. Altogether, it’s a diversified bundle of services that keeps him and up to 10 workers employed.
He accomplishes his tasks on the job, on his ranch and on others’ land where he custom bales with several Massey Ferguson® tractors—an MF2605, MF4608 and MF4610 with a cab. Fuller says they perform equally well in each of the ways he uses them.
Again, it’s that combination of services and an industriousness that keeps him and his employees busy throughout the year. It is, however, a fiercely competitive market in which he operates.
“A lot of these guys come in, they low bid this stuff, these contracts, just to get their foot in the door. But they don’t know what it’s about, and [after] about a year to two years and they’re gone.
“I go out and I buy good equipment,” continues Fuller. “I spend the money. For me, to be able to do this 20 years later and still be in it really says something.”
And when asked what else differentiates his company from others in the business, he replies simply, “I think it’s me—I’m at almost every job site … and I think it’s my name. I’m using my last name as the name of the company.” When something’s not done right, he says, it’s pretty obvious who’s responsible.
See the full story and video: Scape & Scrape: Working In Extreme Weather
What do White Pines and World War II relationships have in common? They’ve both been carefully cultivated by Paul Sailer. Since 1983, Sailer has been successfully planting and harvesting those white pines, Norway pines, balsam firs, eastern larches, white spruces and black spruces on his 85-acre tree farm in Wadena County, Minn.
In addition to harvesting the trees, Sailer has also made good use of the paper they produce by writing historical nonfiction books about fighter pilots flying missions over France and Germany. His latest effort, “I Had a Comrade,” is a study of the lives of the men, their families and even the people caught in the crossfires of battle in Europe.
Sailer came by both vocations honestly. He planted trees on his father’s farm as a boy, and heard many war stories from those who lived it. “My father served with the Eighth Air Force in England during World War II,” he says. “Sitting with me and my siblings on a winter’s night, he would talk about his war experiences while showing us his scrapbook and memorabilia.”
Sailer says he also saw through veterans’ eyes how the war affected rural families. “Many of the young men and women who served in the military and in defense plants came from farming and ranching country. Few returned to rural America.”
After college, Sailer enlisted in the U.S. Army. He flew helicopters for a year in Vietnam. Back home, he’s had a long career in the human services field … and tree farming.
Today, he uses a Massey Ferguson® 2605 and its many attachments for mowing trails, creating fire breaks, removing large rocks, lifting logs and clearing snow in the winter. And while studying the war lives of the Greatest Generation remains a passion, when the weather permits, a perfect evening now is, he says, “Enjoying a cup of coffee with my wife on the front porch of our home as a gentle breeze whispers through the trees we planted all those years ago.”
See the full story and order the book at http://myFarmLife.com/sailer.