June 20, 2024

ISU Farm hosts Brazilian visitors

LEXINGTON, Ill. — A group of Brazilian agronomists, landowners and input industry representatives visited several locations in Illinois that included stops at the Illinois State University Farm, Bayer research facilities and John Deere.

During the stop at the ISU Farm, Fanson Kidwaro, ISU Department of Agriculture chair and associate professor, gave an overview and history of the ISU Farm and department.

Nicholas Heller, associate professor of crop science, detailed central Illinois agriculture production, cover crop research and university regenerative agriculture work.

David Bishop, owner of PrairiErth Farm near Atlanta, spoke of the long-time regenerative agriculture practices on his farm.

Cori Malone, ISU Department of Agriculture academic adviser, discussed the academic offerings and programs at the university.

Jason Lindbom, ISU Farm manager, led the group of over 20 visitors on a tour of the farm.

The tour of Illinois sites was led by Walter Yukio Horita of Barreiras, Bahia, Brazil, who co-owns a 300,000-plus-acre farm along with his brother. Most of the group consisted of agronomists from Horita’s farming operation.

“This is the first time that my agronomists have come to the United States to see a soybean and corn field here because our model is different, but it is the same crop,” Horita said.

“The seed technologies are a bit different because the environment is different, but the machinery, the planter, the sprayers are the same, whether it’s John Deere or Case. There are adjustments for the soil because the soil is different.

“The soil here in the United States has more organic material. Our soil is poorer than here. Some places in Brazil have good soil, but not like here or in Argentina or Ukraine. They need to use fertilizer on the poorer soils.

“When agriculture moved from south to the central region of Brazil, the central region is producing much more. The big revolution in Brazil was when ag moved from the south to the central region. We started to build the soil and to increase the yield using technology, using tools and seed genetics. All of this allows us to increase our yields in that region.”

Set-Aside Laws

Brazil has strict environmental laws for crop production, including a requirement that 20% of a farm’s acreage must be idle each year.

Due to these regulations, Horita’s farm had about 250,000 planted acres with the remaining acres idle under the set-aside requirements.

“The environmental law in Brazil is very severe. If you do not comply, you can be arrested,” he said.

Cotton is one of his main crops. During cotton harvest and processing he has about 1,300 employees while the rest of the year he employs 900 to 1,000.

Conservation

The farm consists primarily of no-till planting, crop rotation and cover crops to help protect the soil and increase organic matter.

“The concept of regenerative agriculture is not so new. The concept is very good, but to apply these concepts you need to be aware of the environment that you are doing it in. The plagues, diseases and weeds, can be much more aggressive,” Horita said.

“Our soil is very poor. It’s not possible for us to do agriculture without fertilizer. If the consumer said they would not consume the products that come from farms that use fertilizer, for us it’s impossible to produce corn, soybean and cotton without fertilizer.

“After almost 40 years we are building the soil and elevating the fertility of our soil because it’s very sandy. We don’t have organic matter like the 3% to 5% here, and we need more rain.

“Most farmers in Brazil are working with great concern about the environment, social environment and governance — the ESG concerns.

“The buyers of our products like Cargill or ADM and others are all concerned about ESG. Brazil’s agribusiness is strongly regulated.”

Certification

Horita’s farming operation adheres to sustainability certification programs for cotton and soybean production.

All of his cotton is certified by the Responsible Brazilian Cotton program and the Better Cotton Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that works with the Responsible Brazilian Cotton program for sustainable production certification.

In addition, 100% of his soybeans are Round Table for Responsible Soy certified. RTRS certification is the highest level of equivalence when benchmarked against the Farm Sustainability Assessment of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform.

Ongoing research is also a part of the farming operation.

“We are working together with Bayer and Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), they’ll finish the project this year that they started two years ago. With our model they are measuring carbon release and carbon sequestration,” Horita said.

They visited the Bayer facilities in Illinois on their tour to see the laboratory and greenhouse, “where they are doing the research to prepare the tools for us that we will use maybe five to seven years from now on the farm,” he said.

Like his Illinois counterparts, Horita knows the vital importance of producing more food while minimizing the environmental impact.

“Agriculture causes environmental impact naturally. It’s not possible to do agriculture without an environmental impact. We need to be able to feed a population that will reach 9.5 billion people in the next 30 years,” he said.

“We need to grow and we need to develop new technology. There’s not a new thing that will replace soybeans or corn. We need to increase the production of corn, soybeans and wheat.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor