October 2008
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Ag Leaders to South America on Trade Mission


Click to enlarge During a trade mission to South America, the Alabama group met with some of the officials on a 25,000 acre farm near Buenos Aires. Standing in a field of winter wheat are (from left) Richard Lindsey, Representative and cotton farmer; Kim Benefield, Senator and Chair of Alabama Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Ron Sparks, Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries; Mario de Casto, Farm Representative and land owner; Roni Lamb, Farm Representative, and Roger Pangle, COO of AFC.


Last month, I led a group of state and industry leaders on a trade mission to Argentina and Brazil. This trade mission focused on the sales of agricultural technology, joint partnerships in poultry and bio-mass, and exploring opportunities for Alabama farmers and forestry landowners to profit from innovations in other countries.

We first visited Argentina and met with officials from Buenos Aires province who will be traveling to Montgomery in October to formally sign mutual trade and education agreements with Alabama. I was able to discuss the potential for selling several Alabama breeds of cattle exhibiting a trademarked genetic marker for leaner beef to cattlemen in Argentina.

One of our first meetings in Brazil was with COPACOL, the first and only tilapia integrator in Brazil. They collect and reuse rainwater, heat from nitrogen transfer and recycle most everyday products. This company was one of the first of many impressive companies the group met with.

We were able to look at the use of bio-mass to heat poultry houses in Brazil. Brazilian farmers efficiently use bio-mass with computer technology to heat their poultry houses in the winter. This concept could revolutionize Alabama’s poultry industry and allow farmers to make more from their poultry operations. Currently the vast majority of Alabama poultry farmers rely on propane or natural gas to heat their poultry houses.

The trade group was hosted by C.Vale, the sixth largest agricultural cooperative in Brazil with $1 billion in sales of products. We were able to visit their poultry feed mill and poultry processing plant where all end-products are sold to the European markets. These operations rival the best of what Alabama has to offer. In addition, C.Vale used heat from bio-mass exclusively to process feed and in their poultry processing plant. I was truly impressed with the efficiency and cleanliness of the plants.

International Paper (IP) invited us to see their tree-cloning program. Their results were amazing. IP was producing eucalyptus trees in five years, all from cuttings of superior trees. IP has engineered these trees to only have limbs and leaves on the top six feet of the trees. These five-year-old trees looked like our twenty-year-old pine plantations — yet taller.

We, along with Auburn University officials, visited Brazil’s sixth largest ethanol facility in Piraci-caba, Brazil, and explored the opportunities existing to create alternative sources for energy in Ala-bama. The Brazilian government made a commitment in the 1970s not to export their wealth to Middle Eastern countries. Instead, they chose wise initiatives to build their infrastructure and create a sustainable-energy source in their own country. Today, over half of all vehicles in Brazil run on ethanol and that is 100 percent ethanol not E85 which contains only 15 percent ethanol.

Today Brazil is building their country, reinvesting in their people, exporting energy and making a cleaner environment.

We discussed and explored the opportunities existing to turn spent sugarcane into ethanol via the gasifation process. You may ask, "What is so important about this?" The answer is since two-thirds of Alabama is covered by forest we can adapt this process, as some industry and university groups are currently doing, to create ethanol. When this process is efficient, Alabama and the Southeast would not only be the wood-basket of America but also turn into its ethanol center.

Senator Hank Sanders traveled on this trade mission and summed up what we saw well. He said the wise learn from the experiences of others, the intelligent learn from their own experiences and fools fail to learn from either of their experiences or the experiences of others. I hope we are wise enough to learn from Brazil and Argentina and apply it to our agriculture industry here in Alabama.