Saturday, April 12, 2008

South American Highlights #7

Sugar Cane and Pineapples

First, there were a couple of questions about this area of Brazil. One was about the climate. There are 2 definite crop seasons here - the wet season and the dry season. The dry season begins in June and lasts until September. There's not enough rainfall during that time for crops so irrigation needs to be used then. Of course that adds to the cost of production so only high value crops would be grown that way (think coffee and fruits!). The wet season lasts the other 8 months which means that sometimes 2 crops can be grown, depending on the time period needed for each crop to mature. We saw late soyabeans being grown where early wheat had already been harvested. The actual amount of precipitation varies depending how close to the 'cliff' (the Rio Francisco river banks) you are. Land closer to the cliff is higher priced because you can usually get higher production without irrigating. There's an incredible amount of sunlight here, being so close to the equator, so different varieties of wheat, corn and soyabeans are grown here than in Canada.

Secondly, about 25,000 people live in the town of Luis Eduardo Meghalles, in a variety of housing. There is a rich section of town with large houses and gates and then there's the rows of brick houses for the working class. Nearly all landowners live in town and drive out to the farm daily. Workers usually live on the farm in housing provided by the owners during the week and go home on weekends. Labour laws are very strict in Brazil (coming from a long tradition of slavery) - I'll tell you more about that in another post.

I hope those answers aren't too involved! It's kind of important to help you understand agriculture in another part of the world. Thanks for hanging in with my explanations. Now let's go out to the farm!

There isn't much infrastructure here and roads are a prime example of this. Main highways connect the towns but when you leave them, local roads are built and maintained - sort of! - by the farms that they lead to. It had rained the night before so we delayed our visit because there was some concern that the bus would have trouble getting us to the destination. This is some of what we had to navigate through. Our bus driver was very skilled and we did get safely in and out of here! Our destination was a farm that grew sugarcane, pineapple, coffee, citrus groups and a whole lot of other crops. We weren't able to meet the owners but we drove through the workers' village and over the river dam that creates a lake used for irrigation. Before we entered the farm property,because citrus crops are grown here, the bus had to drive through a fumigation station where a special water bath was sprayed over it (like an outdoor car wash).

When we got to the field, on one side of the road were pineapples and on the other side was sugarcane. We had come to see sugarcane and hear about how it's being used in ethanol production. Brazil is the world's #1 producer of sugarcane. The guide we had this day was a researcher for the sugarcane institute so he was an expert on everything you could possibly want to know about crossing varieties, water requirements, sugar content, and using the cane for ethanol production. This area is just moving into sugarcane production. The dry season which lasts for 4 months here means the cane has to be irrigated and the cost of doing that has been prohibitive to large scale production previously. That's changed now that the price of oil is so high. Brazil has encouraged the production of ethanol and biodiesel for a long time and most cars can run on either straight gasoline or ethanol.

Most of the women in our group were really interested in pineapple growing but our guide didn't touch on that topic. I want you to meet Alberta, a sweet, sweet lady from Ohio. We never forgot her name at all since it's the name of our province!! She and her husband, Ken, were the newlyweds in our group - they've only been married 2 years. They did get teased about that occasionally!

These pineapples were grown in fields irrigated by big pivots - you can see the wheel tracks going diagonally across this picture. These are fairly new plants - I have no idea how old they are and there were some parts of this field where mature fruit was being handpicked on this day.

This is what a pineapple looks like when it's very young. Did you know that each pineapple is actually made up of a group of tightly packed fruits? You can see each little fruit on this plant.

This is an older fruit but it still has a ways to go. After a fruit is mature and picked, new shoots will develop on the plant and it will continue to produce for several years.

I found this visit just fascinating and I will definitely be visiting a pineapple factory if I ever am near one. The pineapple we ate in Brazil (usually on the breakfast buffet) was delicious!!!

In tomorrow's post we'll walk across the road and see the sugarcane!


  1. Very interesting - too bad you didn't learn more about the pineapples - that's the part that would have interested me most too!

  2. Wow! I had no idea pineapples grew like that. What a great part of the tour, lots to learn about and so great to see it for yourself. Love the photos!

  3. What AMAZING stories and photographs you have from your trip...I so look forward to reading your blog! xoxo