On May 30 of this year, Carlos Vieira contacted me. I didn’t know him then and I almost turned him away. But I didn’t. Call it serendipity. Call it providence. I don’t really care what you call it. The result was an amazing experience my wife and I won’t soon forget.
I don’t know why I approved Carlos’ Facebook request, but I did. He wanted my email address in order to send me an invite. I gave him my Gmail address.
Within minutes, I had an email. The Brazilian Animal Protein Association was inviting me to take part in the International Pork and Poultry conference in Sao Paulo. They would pay my way.
Brazil has recently come under fire for what is known as the “weak meat” scandal, which temporarily and effectively decimated the country’s meat export market. Inviting foreign journalists and writers to cover the event was part of the industry’s campaign to boost its image.
After a ton of sleuthing and verification-related investigations, I said yes, on one condition: my wife could join me. Carlos said that wouldn’t be a problem.
Brazil is the second largest soybean producer in the world and that interests me. So, we added a few days to our return flights and booked a tour guide to take us through a few farms in the state of Mato Grosso.
I was nervous about the trip. I didn’t know if Carlos was real. I didn’t know if my plane tickets were real. I didn’t know if the conference was real.
I’ll get to the details. But, here’s a spoiler: this was one of the most fascinating trips I have ever been on.
Wellington greeted us at the airport and took us to the Holiday Inn where we would be staying and where the conference would be held. He was friendly and spelled my name correctly on the piece of paper he was holding up. Two points for Wellington.
I met about 50 other journalists from about 40 countries. The conference itself was fascinating and the organizers were friendly. The association and various officials in the country’s meat industry passionately denounced that the situation was as bad as the news stories lead the world to believe. They pleaded that the problem that lead to the release of expired meat had been fixed and that protocols were now in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
I had little context for this, but was struck by the fact that in global trade disputes, most people have very little access to all the facts.
If I was to bring back to Canada the good news story of Brazilian meat, I would need access to all the facts. I would need experience working and reporting on the industry. I would need a lot more. All I can say in good conscience and with certainty is that Carlos and the rest of the team that hosted us were great hosts. I can also say that every instance of Brazilian meat I consumed on this trip was tasty.
We said goodbye to Carlos, goodbye to the association and goodbye to a steep learning curve of an international trade dispute.
Our next leg was rural. And we were excited about it. Our agri-tour guide spelled my name correctly, as well.
This segment of Brazil will, I’m guessing, spill into more than just this column. To properly describe the farms we saw, the people we talked to and the ag organizations we shared information with.
But I will say this: there is real value in seeing how other people farm. Carolina Farms in Mato Grosso has more than 360,000 metric tonnes of on-farm storage. They plant hundreds of thousands of acres of soybeans. They run more than 90 combines and have a paved airstrip for spray planes and visitors.
Their input costs are high. Their fuel costs are high. Their transportation costs are high. But they got us on scale. And many of them, it seems, look for value-add opportunities on their farms, whether that’s in storage or in processing.
Their environmental protection laws are much more strict than I was led to believe, their agronomics are mind-bending, but I’m going to save those details and much more for another issue.
If you’re a farmer and you’ve ever had the itch to experience Brazil, don’t hesitate. It will be a valuable experience, one from which your farm will benefit.