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close up on man in combine cab Photo courtesy Lucas Costa Beber
Lucas Costa Beber

Harvest moving at slow pace in Nova Mutum

Mato Grosso harvest progress: Viewpoint from a combine cab.

By the time Lucas Costa Beber had finished harvesting for the day, grabbed a shower and finished dinner, it was after midnight. Neither he nor his neighbors had been able to start the soybean harvest until after ten in the morning, as it had rained more than an inch and a half the day before in the Nova Mutum area of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state. Producers are slower to return to the fields in the Nova Mutum area because the region’s soil has a higher clay content.

The day we talked, Beber told me the first beans he harvested in the morning came in at 22% moisture. By the end of the day, he said, that number was down to 13.

The last time I chatted with Beber, we talked about Brazilian farmers’ optimism given the new administration, and producers’ newfound hope for better days. But that was before harvest. Whether that optimism will be sustained may rely in part on how well the 2018-19 crop ends up doing. Beber guesses his beans are yielding around 51 bushels per acre. He says he got 56.8 bushels per acre last year.

Beber began harvesting his earliest beans on Jan. 22. The rest of his acres weren’t mature, so he waited until Feb. 2 to resume harvest. Weather has slowed the harvest progress on his 3,000 acres.

“This year,” Beber told me, “we’re not getting as much done each day even though we started (harvest) earlier. On the earliest beans, the harvest pace was slow because the plants were short given that, this year there wasn’t a lot of light for the development of the early beans, and we had so much rain. And so, since the bean plants were short, I had to go slowly (in the harvest) to avoid losses.”

But it’s not just the early beans that have made for field difficulties at harvest. “The medium-cycle beans are also going slowly as those beans got more light. Since the variety I used has a lot of vegetation, it grew too much and lodged so I have to harvest slowly there, too.”

Normal pace

With one employee on a second combine, one helper working the dryer and one tracking behind the combines with a planter full of seed for his second-crop corn, Beber says he can normally manage to get about 125 acres per day harvested per each of the two combines. But on Feb. 7, each machine could only handle 72 acres given the slow pace necessary to accommodate fallen bean plants.

Unlike many neighbors who hire out truckers, Beber has two of his own trucks to haul beans from the field to storage. He’s only eight miles from the paved BR 163 highway, which saves him a lot of time and money versus those producers whose beans have to negotiate greater distances to a paved road during rainy season.

And while the weatherman is calling for rain over the next few days in Nova Mutum, Beber says he tries not to worry too much about forecasts. “At harvest time, I don’t much look at the weather forecast,” he says. “I just try to take advantage of good weather when it comes, say my prayers and ask God for help in the harvest.” Farmers can really only focus, he says, on the things they can control - and the weather ain’t one of those things.

And one of those things this season was his spraying routine. The beans he’s harvesting now had been sprayed a total of five times over the course of the growing season. Beber did three applications for stink bugs, two for various caterpillars and one additional trip through the fields to hit the stinkbugs a final time. “This was a calm enough year in terms of pests,” he says. “The main problem was whitefly, and I had to spray twice for it.”

So is there room for continued farmer optimism now that fields are being harvested and experts are so often shaving their 2018-19 production estimates? Beber takes a wait and see approach. “The agencies (that estimate crop sizes and conditions in Brazil) don’t share among themselves, and each one issues a different crop estimate. It’s true we’ll have losses compared to original estimates, but we’ll only know how big those losses are once harvest is finished.”

And given the slow pace in Nova Mutum, it looks like there are plenty more late-night dinners ahead for farmers like Beber before the 2018-19 crop is completely in.

 The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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