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Vinduska analyzes agriculture in Brazil

Staff writer

A recent international trip to Brazil and Argentina with the U.S. Grains Council was a little bit different for Terry Vinduska of Marion.

For starters, Vinduska has been in the past president position since the beginning of 2012, moving down after a full year term as Council President. On some occasions, the sitting president has other obligations and the past president is tapped to fill and perform those duties — move meeting discussions, act as a representative for the council, and provide quotes for the media.

In the slew of meetings in South America, from Jan. 17 through Jan. 27, all of the Grains Council Officers were present. Vinduska did not need to sit in the seat of honor and be the constant focal point of each meeting.

“It’s more relaxing,” Vinduska said.

Brazil and Argentina are also different from other nations Vinduska has recently visited — China, India, and Vietnam. They are more western in identity and thus more familiar.

Sao Paolo, Brasilia, and Buenos Aires all offered inviting downtown environments akin to Chicago or Los Angles. Vinduska said he was comfortable enough to walk anywhere on his own.

In many countries, eating beef is a luxury. Brazil and Argentina are more like the United States where beef is a regular part of the diet. The culinary highlight of the trip was dining in a Brazilian steakhouse where the main dish is a slab of beef skewered on a vertical rotisserie. Large hunks of beef are then shaved off onto diners plates.

“It was an all-you-can-eat meat fest,” Vinduska said.

While Brazil is known for its slums, Vinduska only saw pieces of the impoverished living condition in the country. In India, he said it was unavoidable.

The purpose of the Grains Council meetings were completely different than meetings planned in China and India. Brazil and Argentina have no problem producing enough food for themselves. Indeed, Argentina is the second largest exporter of corn in the world. Vinduska was there to scout the competition. What Vinduska saw in Brazil was an emerging agricultural superpower.

“The potential there boggles my mind,” he said.

Brazil was the first country the council visited. They spent time in the capital of Brasilia, Sao Paolo, and the regions of Carambei, Arapot, and Castro through Jan. 22.

It is Vinduska’s third visit to the nation since 1997, and he said it has matured considerably. In 1997, Vinduska was stuck in his hotel for an entire day while rioters destroyed Sao Paolo over a wage dispute. There was not such discontent this time around.

Many of Brazil’s problems remain the same from 1997. With most residents living in cities on the coast of a country roughly the size of the U.S., the inland of the nation has been left mostly undeveloped. A goal of the Brazilian government is to establish infrastructure to outlying areas to foster development. Unlike in 1997, the government has a 10-year plan to accomplish this goal, Vinduska said.

What lies in the southern section of the country is a fertile land mass the size of all of the United States’ farming area. Currently, it is brush land, but underneath is loose fertile soil. Vinduska marveled at the soil. He said brush could be pulled out using a log dragged behind a tractor.

Thought to be uninhabitable, the land receives plenty of rainfall. In the tropical climate, it could produce two growing seasons worth of crops.

Another interest to the Grains Council particular to Brazil was the government allowing experimental genetically modified crops to be grown in test plots. The seeds in those plots have not been approved in any other country.

“They are circumventing all regulation,” Vinduska said. “It’s a gamble by the government.”

But it is also a gamble that could pay off as companies gain valuable research and development ground.

While Argentina currently produces more crops for the worldwide market, the country also has less potential for growth. The majority of the farmland in the nation is in use.

With the country being mostly ranchland in its early history, beef production is ingrained in the culture. The government will not allow crop production on existing pasture. The Argentinean government is also asking producers to triple beef production over the next two decades. To encourage farmers to keep crops in the country, the Argentinean government also places a 30 percent tax on all agricultural exports. The U.S. encourages exporting crops as a means of bringing more money into the country.

“The government in Argentina is wacko,” Vinduska said.

The council visited Buenos Aires and Rosario. As is the case with all his foreign trips, Vinduska’s favorite part was talking with local farmers.

“Once you produce something out of nothing, you work hard, you sweat, you get it done, it’s something you share,” Vinduska said.

Another shared experience was talking about government regulations.

“I complain about our wacky government just like they do about theirs,” Vinduska said. “Government controls don’t let me do business like I would like to.”

Not all farmers are equal. Vinduska met with one Argentinean farmer in a suite office located at the top of a skyscraper in Rosario. The office featured a hot tub.

The farmer’s lavish surroundings were fruits of his business acumen, Vinduska concluded. Vinduska praised the farmer’s vision and management ability.

“We didn’t ask him a question he hadn’t already asked himself,” Vinduska said.

His vision was exemplified by a purchase of 100,000 acres of undeveloped land. He said it will be growing soy beans in two years.

In a twist, the farmer sincerely asked if Vinduska would like to invest in the project. Faced with a move to Argentina and joining a U.S. competitor, Vinduska went with what was familiar.

“I don’t think (my wife) Cindy is ready to live in Argentina,” he responded

Last modified Feb. 15, 2012

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