Comparing notes in Brazil

By Stephen Cooke

FARM TOURS provide an opportunity not only to see what you could adapt on your side of the fence, but to benchmark yourself against farms around the world.

Marcelo Siqueira hosted Brad and other Australian farmers on tour with Alltech Lienert Australia.

Queensland dairy farmer Brad Motley had this opportunity when he visited the Siqueira family’s farm in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. Both are humble men but are very good at what they do and have similar operations.

Brad, with his wife Karen and father Colin, plus his son Jayden returning, runs 350 Holstein and crossbred milkers on 486ha, at Pinelands near Crows Nest, southern Queensland.

Marcelo is a sixth generation farmer, milking 340 cows three times a day as part of a mixed business that also finishes beef cattle and grows coffee and soya beans.

The largest difference is labour, with the Siqueira family employing 18 employees for the dairy alone. Labour is so cheap that on farms throughout Brazil it is as easy to employ extra staff as it is to find further efficiencies in the system.

Brad, like other Australian farmers, has been driven to find efficiencies to remain profitable.

“Marcelo’s farm was not dissimilar to what we are doing, they just have cheaper labour,” Brad said.

Brad utilises a feed pad for four months of the year over summer but would like to build sheds similar to Marcelo’s, which are common in South America and Europe.

“It’s a good set-up with cows being shedded. Milking cows 3 times a day would be good but you need 1000 cows to make it in Australia due to employment required.

“There’s cheap labour (in Brazil). It wouldn’t pay at home.”

Marcelo says farmers in Brazil have realised they must get bigger to survive.

“It is difficult to plan in this country but we are trying to grow.”

Due to his size – there are only about 10 farms with 1000 cows in Brazil – and milk quality, he receives 1.35 real/litre (A48 cents). Other farms are receiving about 90 real/l (A32 cents).

Ten years ago there were no farms with more than 500 cows. Now, people see they have to grow because there’s a small margin for profit. The smaller farms are going broke.

The Brazilian milk market is at the whim of Government intervention. If prices grow too much the Government will buy milk from neighbouring country Uruguay, or powder from Holland, to reduce prices for its citizens.

Uruguay is very efficient and has a lower cost of production, that’s why we have to be more efficient,” Marcelo said.

On the 29th of each month, Brazilian farmers are told the price they will receive for what they produced that month. There is no security.

When Brad tells Marcelo he has a 3-year contract, the Brazilian laughs and rolls his eyes. It’s clear better milk prices is an issue farmers can agree on worldwide.

• Alltech funded Stephen Cooke's attendance at the Alltech ONE Conference in Kentucky, USA, and tour to Brazil.