January 15, 2009

Lucas do Rio Verde

Thursday morning, we reluctantly bid adieu to John Carter’s ranch around 7:30 a.m. to fly to Lucas do Rio Verde, a two-hour flight to the west. Due to the size and weight of the plane, we needed to take off from a neighbor’s runway. A handful flew to the other runway, while John and one of his employees took two carloads on a 40-minute journey down a road that most of us would call a pasture trail. True to the adventure of the past 24 hours, one of the vehicles broke a tie-rod along the way…and all of us piled into John’s pickup for the last 15 minutes of the trip.

Landed in Lucas do Rio Verde late morning and went immediately to a biodiesel plant. They use a variety of feedstocks, mostly soybeans but also animal fat, sunflowers, and peanuts.

The plant uses wood to fire its boiler (40 tons per day, if we heard right)…and we saw thousands of wooden pallets stacked behind the plant. Unfortunately, the plant was going through maintenance during our visit, so we didn’t get to see the emissions from the wood-fired boiler. "Wood" have been interesting, to say the least.

This 135 million litre plant is planning to be the first in the world to develop a process certification program—essentially a set of standards at every step that, they hope, will distinguish their brand of biodiesel from all others.

Additionally, the plant is participating in the social fuel certification program we learned about at the Ministry earlier in the week. They plan to buy 25 percent of their soybeans from “household agriculture” (small farmers) in order to qualify for the tax incentives involved with the program.

Later in the day, we visited a pork production facility built eight months ago. There were four buildings with 2200 animals each. The facility uses biodigesters to process the manure and we stood right next to the lagoon and detected virtually no odor.

The same producer, who contracts with an agribusiness company called Sadia, also raises broilers in a relatively new facility….eight buildings with 25,000 birds each. His employees are primarily couples or families who live right on the premises.

More to come our visit to what apparently is Brazil's version of extension education.

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