Rice Farmer – Brazil Harvest

I found this fascinating. Several reasons. A minor one is discovering that Rice Farmer speaks Portuguese. Usually it’s Spanish near Biggs. His Portuguese is good, but his accent is lacking. There are some historical Portuguese families in the area, so maybe his is one, or maybe he just really likes Carnival ;-) His accent argues for not being learned at home from Gramps & Granny. Not bad, but not enough nasalization and he says “it’s good” with a bit more Spanish sound. ( I taught English to Portuguese teens once and did an immersion in Portuguese as prep. I can read it, and follow some of the spoken form, but speaking it not so much. Spanish and French keep taking over ;-)

Then, he walks into the field (in the first video) in his tennis shoes despite the locals all going barefoot. He discovers the field is basically a bunch of semi-solid mud at harvest time. That’s exactly opposite California practice where the field is dried and the plants are browned off not green.

Furthermore, notice the lack of checks or contour separations. They get a LOT of daily natural tropical rain, so just let the field be muddy and drain into cut ditches over time. An interesting change of method.

They are running a “stomper” over the field after harvest, then a 2nd crop grows. He asserts in the first video that it is the dropped seeds that make the second crop, but in the 2nd video he finds the mature plants are making new sprouts (“tillering”) and that is the source of the 2nd crop. I find that particularly interesting in the context of potential hydroponic rice growing. Seed into some kind of mat, and you can get at least two, and perhaps several crops. Flood with hydroponic solution and forget about it?

Then,for me, both videos have a bit of nostalgia. They are using older harvesters in Brasil on these family farms. The same kinds I climbed on and watched back in my home town. You can keep a harvester running forever as long as you do maintenance, and if the older smaller ones fit your farm, why buy a new one? The harvester with tracks is interesting. I’m pretty sure when I was a kid they had big wheels and were without tracks. One supposes it is due to the “harvest in the mud” operation. Checking his recent harvester videos, the newer ones here in California have large rubber tracks in front. Perhaps a bit of a compromise as metal track is not allowed on pavement (as it tears up the asphalt).

This one is a year later and has an example of a harvester breakdown when one belt takes out the rest. While that harvester is being fixed, he visits a nearby farm with an even smaller harvester. Rice Farmer does finally realize that going barefoot in the mud is best ;-)

Then, lest you think that Brasil is all old equipment and backwards, here’s the use of an autonomous drone to deliver ag chemicals. I really like the shot of the old tractor with the blade type metal wheels on it. Designed to sink into the mud for traction without disturbing too much crop in the process. I’ve seen them before, but rarely. California went to crop duster fairly early and these were largely abandoned before I was paying very much attention ;-)

This drone is, IMHO, only a first step. 55 lbs / 25 kg with a 4 gallon / 15 L tank. It has a 15 minute flight time and 2.5 acres / 1 hectare per flight or 15 acres / 6 hectares per hour of operation. With those specs, you will do a lot of loading chemicals and a lot of changing batteries. Eventually I expect that the larger payload of physically larger drones, and the benefits of fuel over batteries, will result in the FAA making a special ruling for Ag Drones of larger sizes. At that point, the crop duster industry has an issue. Still, for the farmer with 150 acres, telling them they can DIY in 10 hours of operation and NOT need to schedule with the crop dusting service (nor pay up…) will be very attractive. “Watch this space”…

I agree with his assessment that larger size is needed. It will also need to transition away from an expert team of a half dozen people to operate it. The individual farmer, owning his own drone that already knows his farm, where he can hire a minimum wage person to just fuel and fill (or do it himself once an hour or two) is when it will “take off”.

Once you don’t need the ag service to plant seeds or fertilize or dust, the economics of rice farming shift along with the scheduling. You still need the large harvester, stomper, ploughs, tractors, but the money going “off farm” drops.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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6 Responses to Rice Farmer – Brazil Harvest

  1. gallopingcamel says:

    Crop dusting is a hazardous profession. Clearly un-piloted drones have the potential to be much cheaper to operate than conventional crop-dusters.

    Best of all we don’t have to put humans at risk to perform precision seeding and crop dressing.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    Ah, in his 14 hours of planting rice video we meet his wife, who speaks Portuguese. One suspects he met her in Brasi and now is bilingual.


    Yeah, lots of hazard and expense, but a fun job :-)

  3. Saighdear says:

    Thanks for the, as usual, enlightening reports:-Heh! remember Alastair Cooke’s ‘Letters from America’ but then you go and spoil it with mentioning the Minimum wage! Aaaw! -but of course the Public is ALWAYS RIGHT in their insistence of wanting CHEAP FOOD.
    Think there should be a Worldwide Campaign for ANY body handling / dealing with food or other Essentials, to do so at the Minimum Wage. Greta, Where are you?

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    I’m glad you liked it! I grew up in a rice growing area with a rice growing culture (and peaches as the other big crop). Dad was from a farm in Iowa and we had a block of corn in the garden each year. He made sure I knew corn and how to grow it… maybe he thought I would move back to Iowa and a farm ;-) or more likely just thought it was important and liked really fresh corn.

    It is true that if harvested sweet corn sits for more than about 10 minutes the flavor is less perfect; so we’d pick and boil and eat all inside 1/2 hour ;-) Was told that “back in Iowa” they put the boil pot near the corn in the garden so you could pick, husk, and toss it immediately in the boiling water. For our garden he relented and our cooking pot stayed in the kitchen, figuring we could make it across the lawn and porch in time ;-)

    What happens is the plant starts making enzymes to turn the sugars into starches and the sweetness fades. IMHO it takes longer, like hours, but Dad insisted he could tell the difference after just 20 minutes or so, and had the 10 minute rule. We now have “supersweet” varieties that hold the sugars for much longer. Days. Via genetic manipulation of those sugar conversion enzymes.

    For me, growing up with rice, it was literally just part of the landscape and culture. You just learned it because everyone did it or depended on it being done; directly or indirectly.

    As for “Minimum wage”: That’s a few chapters of economics… For agriculture, there’s an inherent value to the product. IF the cost to produce exceeds that inherent value, the product will not be made. I have a personal example:

    Farmer has planted a new field of Walnuts. The trees are only a couple of years old, so make only a few walnuts. Not enough for any kind of mechanical harvester and not enough to hire a full on crew. My Mexican buddy and me get hired as about 9 year old kids to pick some of it. I’m picking away. Mexican friend gets bored and wants to start a “walnut fight” and tosses a walnut at me. We are not all that productive for a while. I get back into it and pick some more, he dawdles a little… After about 3/4 of the day, the farmer tells us he’s decided not to pick the rest and sends us home.

    Later I find out he’s telling someone it was the first time he ever saw a white guy work harder than a Mexican, but that he just wasn’t getting enough walnuts to pay for the wages. Walnuts, then, sold for $1 / bag for Black Walnuts and $10 / bag for English Walnuts (call it $10 and $100 in current dollars). Good money for a kid who can pick a bag in a day. Not good money if you had to pay minimum wage to 2 kids for a day (figure 8 x 7 x 2 = $112 in current dollars for a $100 bag of walnuts. Or 8 x 0.70 x 2 = $11.20 for a $10 bag of walnuts in ‘then’ dollars) and IIRC we picked about one gunnysack of English Walnuts between us.

    Now make that a $15 / hr minimum wage by fiat. NOBODY can pick that field fast enough to pay the cost of the labor and it is too young for mechanical harvesting. It also can never be as productive as the fully grown field, so can never match the prices from it. The farmer will just leave the field to drop the walnuts a couple of years as it matures enough to be “worth it” to pick.

    Rice Farmer has another video illustrating this too, indirectly. Let’s see if I can find it…. Ah, here it is. He’s in a Rice Leadership class and they fly around the State looking at different kinds of rice and how the logistics chains work (trip to harvester maker, etc.). Along the way, they visit a farm raising a more traditional short grain sushi rice (tall stems and always lays down, but early, so long slow harvest starts early and runs long). Sushi rice also has more sugars and stays gummy after cooking so it sticks together.

    They also visit a tomato harvest and a lettuce harvest. Note that both are mechanized. When I was a kid, it was all hand labor with Mexican Braceros. What changed? Minimum Wage Law and Caesar Chavez unions. Between them, they raised the wages just a modest amount, but enough to put most of the laborers out of work with mechanization. I watched the invention of the tomato harvester where (mostly women) would stand on the moving machine while it uprooted the whole plant and carried it past them, then they just pull tomatoes into the conveyor that carries them to the bank out / truck. Lettuce had something similar happen, but not where I was so I only saw it after I went to college (at an Ag school…)

    Oh, and note too the use of ALL_monds vs. A-monds. We had a language specialist visit our high school and tell us that in places that grow them, they are called A-monds, while people who use them call them ALL_monds.

    Also note that he flies to Salinas (south of San Jose / Silicon Valley) via a run 100 miles north to the Shasta Lake… They took a tour of the whole valley but it isn’t clear from the video they went 100 miles north to go 100 miles south west… but you get a good view of the whole place.

    I was also interested to see the Louisianan segment, even crawfish are being automated / mechanized… It’s refreshing to see real people doing real living… reminds me of where I came from. Silicon Valley can be a bit out of touch and artificial… I think maybe I’m just a frustrated farmer at heart ;-)

    So folks will be paid what the product can support. If the Minimum Wage doesn’t support the costs, the job will be eliminated or mechanized. The net result of Minimum Wage laws is ALWAYS fewer workers. Is it better to have 80% put out of work so 20% get paid a little more? It will depend on which of those workers you ask…

  5. cdquarles says:

    Growing up, I knew, from experience, that a minimum wage never helped me. It either put me out of work or kept me from getting work; until I was productive enough to justify it. I will also say to folk: “If you agreed to work for X, then X is what your labor is worth”, to my children/grandchildren and anyone else who asks. An employer is the buyer, the worker is the seller. Why should a buyer pay more than what said buyer thinks the product being sold, is worth? /rhetorical

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    Yeah. Chavez made his United Farm Workers union and stuck it to the grape growers, lettuce growers, and tomato harvesters. Over the next half dozen years or so, union membership plummeted to about 10% as folks invented mechanized picking systems. In my home town, I noodled over ideas with a guy inventing a pumpkin harvester.

    Oh, and I got to watch the Almond Shaker be invented and move into mainline use. So all the folks picking almonds were put out of work.

    Then folks with old orchards ready to refresh just pulled them out and went to other crops. Eventually the peach cannery closed taking those jobs with it. Cheaper to can elsewhere with lower cost fruit.

    Oh, and local meatpacking closed up. Teams come in from Nevada, load up the cattle, and haul them to low cost processing in Nevada. So a high labor lots of jobs fruit orchard and cannery economy turns into a one farmer pasture and contract processing ouf of State.

    But we have a high minimum wage… and unions… so you ought to feel good about that…

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