Agricultural Development in Brazil

This post originally appeared on UK’s Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering website. 

A group of students, faculty, and staff recently returned from a two-week study-abroad trip to Brazil that Tim Stombaugh, Ph.D., P.E, organized in conjunction with Brian Steward of Iowa State University. The May 10-26 excursion was similar to trips taken in 2010 and 2012, with a focus on agricultural development.

On this bus tour through the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, the group had the opportunity to see a variety of agricultural operations from very small, subsistence-type family farms to some of the largest coffee and sugar cane producers in the world. Dr. Stombaugh’s goal was to look at development and adoption of technology in agriculture, and the itinerary was chosen specifically by him and Dr. Steward to provide a wide range of experiences for students.

Four undergraduate and four graduate students, along with Drs. Stombaugh, Dvorak, and Modenbach followed the full itinerary, with Drs. Nokes and Agouridis joining for part of the trip. Iowa State had a similar number, with 11 students and two faculty members rounding out the group. Family members from both universities were able to join for part of the trip, extending the unique experience even further.


The first four days were spent in Viçosa, where BAE has had a long-term educational partnership with the Universidade Federal de Viçosa.  The University released a press release about the trip, which is written in Portuguese.

Those four days were busy, with visits to a mid-size coffee farm, a small family farm, and a cachaça distillery. Cachaça is a fermented and distilled sugarcane juice that is “similar to Kentucky bourbon,” according to Stombaugh. “The distillery’s closed system was a fascinating clash of technologies: A 1900s steam-powered engine milled the sugarcane, while in the next room, a modern automated bottling line prepared the beverage for market.” They also toured university labs, faculty lectures, met with the President of the university. The Brazilian students hosted a traditional BBQ, or churrasco, one evening.

In Belo Horizonte, a capital city of more than five million, everyone got time off to see the central market, street fair, and museums. Next was a contrast in population: Rio Paranaiba, with a population of only 13,000, boasts a new satellite campus of Viçosa.  While there, the group visited a large vegetable production farm which began its now-successful dairy to supply the vegetables with manure. They use manure for fertilizer and methane to power the coolers, creating an energy-efficient closed system. While in Rio Paranaiba, Drs. Stombaugh and Steward gave invited lectures at the university. While there, students got to experience Brazil’s traditional stew, feijoada, which features nose-to-tail pork and beef cuts.

“My favorite part was the food. It was delicous! The pizza, meats, beans and rice, grilled pineapple, and bananas were the highlight of the trip. But as far as the ag/industrial tour part goes, the sugarcane fields were amazing to see. Corn to Americans is sugarcane to Brazilians. It’s part of their fuel, food, distilleries, and economy. Studying abroad in Brazil showed the scope of how important sugar cane really is to Brazil and to the world,” said Thomas Loxley, a BAE senior who, in addition to going to Brazil, is a summer intern at the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee.


On to São Carlos, where the group visited Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or EMBRAPA,  an agriculture research facility, which, in this case, conducts precision agriculture research. They also visited Museu TAM, an aviation museum created by the founder of Brazil’s TAM Airlines.

In São Paulo’s Piracicaba, students and staff toured a CNH facility which specializes in sugarcane and coffee harvesters. Following that, they visited a sugarcane breeding facility, which uses the cane as a thermal energy crop.

The journey ended with some well-deserved time off in Rio de Janeiro, where, despite unfavorable weather, the group enjoyed seeing the statue of Christ the Redeemer and a cable car ride to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. “It was really neat to see how similar, yet how different things were in Brazil, and the difference in scale of the various agricultural operations. It gives you a new perspective on things. This whole trip was a really great experience, one that I’ll definitely remember forever,” Dr. Alicia Modenbach, the department’s academic coordinator, said.


The study-abroad program was made possible in part by the CAFE’s Dean’s International Incentive Fund (DIIF) program, UK’s Education Abroad, and a FIPSE grant.