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Interview: Challenges for Brazilian farmers

Luis Vieira 01/21/2014 @ 11:14am Agricultural freelance reporter from Porto Alegre, Brazil. Editor of AgroSouth-news.com

(PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil) Agriculture.com--Kátia Abreu once was listed among the top 100 most influential people in Brazil. She is an independent senator from the state of Tocantins and president of the Federation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil, a counterpart of the National Farmers Union. Being recognized as the rural voice of the country, Abreu joined many fights in order to defend less aggressive regulations that would curb the Brazilian agricultural production. The height of these frictions was when the new Foresting Code was discussed in Brazil. In a UN Conference about climate change in Cancún, Mexico, Greenpeace even delivered a chainsaw to Abreu in an unkind protest.

In an exclusive interview to Agriculture, she chatted about the challenges of Brazilian agriculture. The senator thinks the main challenges to agricultural production in the country are not logistics nor caterpillars, but the next election. Abreu believes that if former Natural Environmental minister Marinal Silva is elected vice president, Brazilian farmers would be hurt by aggressive environmental regulations pushed by international NGOs.

Agriculture.com - Do you think the logistics chaos will repeat again in 2014 with lines in the main ports by April? Do you think logistics will continue to be the main challenge of Brazilian agriculture?

Kátia Abreu - I'm more optimistic about this situation. The first aspect is the corn production. We will not have the same level of corn exports in the same period. Another factor is anticipated commercialization. Last year, 85% of the sales were made in advance. This year, we did not sell 30% of our corn until December. And a third thing is the government program directed to build warehouses. Payment deadlines are extended and interest rates are compatible with producers' capability. More warehouses will be available in the farms and to other chain players.

Agriculture.com - Helicoverpa Armigera (known as the corn earworm in the U.S.) has been a major concern in many states of Brazil. In some areas, soybean losses are estimated at 10% just because of that caterpillar. How are farmers and the sector in general fighting the problem?

Abreu - I have worked hard in order to approve the usage of biotech production at Anvisa (Brazil's National Agency of Sanitary Surveillance). There is a huge bureaucracy that does not release the most effective pesticides. I've put huge pressure on Anvisa to release those pesticides that effectively will resolve the problem.

Agriculture.com - In 2013, the U.S. exported a record amount of wheat to Brazil because of shortages generated by Argentina in the Mercorsur trade bloc (which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and most recently, Venezuela and Bolivia). The extension of the exemption of external tariff benefitting U.S. farmers has made some Brazilians complain about the changes. Mills, on the other hand, want more U.S. wheat in the market. In the meantime, local federations say that Brazil could triple wheat production from one season to another if rules are not changed within the year. In your opinion, what is the solution?

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