The corporations that defined America as a land of plenty have invested heavily here. Grocery shelves are stocked with iconic U.S. brands such as Mazola oil and Corn Flakes, manufactured at local plants where Cargill, Kellogg’s and other staple Midwestern companies employ thousands of Brazilians. Of seven new factories that John Deere said it plans to build worldwide, two are in Brazil — with three in China and one each in India and Russia.
“It is a tricky issue,” said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “U.S. companies are doing all this investment in an agriculture superpower that is a huge competitor. . . . Growers from the U.S. are definitely watching what is happening down here.”
Corn is a new part of the discussion.
Once reliant on imports, Brazil has seen its corn production explode in recent years. High world prices have enticed farmers into planting more, and crop management changes have allowed two plantings a year on Cerrado farms.
Farmers here increasingly use a faster-growing strain of soybean that can be planted in September — the start of spring in the southern hemisphere — and harvested in January. A second crop can then go in the ground and be ready by June.
This year that second crop was corn, and the record planting was ready just as the effect of the U.S. drought was becoming clear. A boon for Brazilian corn growers, it may spur more production.
“We have just started having a corn market in Brazil,” with futures contracts and other tools helping farmers invest in a second planting, said Marcos Rubin, a partner at Brazilian consulting firm Agroconsult. “It is a new model of farming,” he said. “As we become more solid [corn] exporters . . . it will help farmers plan better for a second crop.”
Brazilian farmers remain focused on soybeans and the potential to export to China. The country does not expect to displace the United States as the world’s top corn producer, said Elisio Contini, head of strategic studies at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp.
But it does expect to play an increasing role in agriculture. Farmers here say the major constraint — a notoriously slow and expensive transportation network — can be fixed over time.
Compared with this country’s unlocked potential, said Oliveira, the cotton farmer, “the U.S. is at its limits.”