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Brazil's harvest logistical fears realized

02/20/2013 @ 8:43am

With a record-large 2013 soybean crop expected, the biggest fear for Brazilian farmers is becoming reality.

The logistics of harvesting and transporting the massive amounts of soybeans have reared their ugly heads. And with only 25% of the expected 80 to 85 million metric tons of soybeans harvested, it's still very early in the season.

Brazil's harvest season has a long window due to the wide-ranging planting dates of the various parts of the country. However, harvest delays this year in the rain-soaked west-central states and drought-stricken southern states, mixed with a faster-pace harvest for the number one soybean-producing state of Parana have meant that a lot of the country's farmers are harvesting at the same time. This magnifies the weaknesses of Brazil's infrastructure issues.

A known problem

It's been known all along that Brazil would suffer from too few trucks, too few truck drivers, and insufficient trains to transport the record crop from fields to the co-ops or ports for export.

As late as February, many farmers unions purchased 50 new trucks to beef up transportation capacity. Other private companies have been reportedly buying additional trucks to get production out of the field. Also this year, Brazil's government implemented a new law that limits the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the road.

In addition to Brazil's record-large soybean crop, leftover corn from last year is being shipped at the same time, clogging up the transportation system.

As of this week, the equivalent of 11.0 million metric tons of vessel capacity is lined up at the Brazilian ports waiting to be loaded with corn, soybeans, or wheat.

Bottleneck feared

In any given year, those corn shipments should fade as March approaches to give way to freshly harvested soybeans. The fear is that a major bottleneck could be ahead if corn shipments continue to slow logistics.

Because of the U.S. drought-shortened crop, Brazil is filling marketshare,  shipping corn to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Egypt, and the U.S. In addition to the extra corn shipments, too much rain has delayed harvest in Mato Grosso, the number two soybean-producing state in Brazil.

Without threatening the country's expected record crop, the heavy rains in the west-central region of Brazil have hampered the yields and slowed development of the crop. On harvested soybeans, moisture levels are reading as high as 30% in Mato Grosso.

Slow harvest threatens Safrinha

Farmers are hoping for a reprieve from the rain later this week, but many fields remain way too wet for combines.

Meanwhile, because of the delayed harvest, many farmers are worried about getting the second corn crop (safrinha) planted on time. The safrinha planting dates range from January to March. The crop may get planted, but yields will be threatened if it's too tardy.

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