Shared Learnings: Brazil Lettuce farmers Visit Salinas Valley

A. Crawford 2/13/2012

In 2010, more than 600,000,000 pounds of lettuce were sold in American retail outlets.  A majority of that lettuce was grown in Salinas Valley, California, a region known to many as the Salad Bowl of the World. Many farmers visit Salinas to learn the latest about lettuce production.

Near the close of 2011, Monsanto organized the opportunity for 10 Brazilian farmers to spend a week in Salinas.  The farmers were able to visit plant growers, processors and equipment makers to see how they could adapt large-scale American processes to their more modest Brazilian farming operations.

During the visit, farmers asked about more effective methods to control disease and pests, determining the best fertilization application schedule and method, soil preparation before planting and after harvest, and reducing the crop cycle time.

There are significant differences between how lettuce is produced in Salinas and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In California, farmers employ more mechanization, farm much larger plots of land, and use cool chain quality indicators to maintain post-harvest quality.  Brazilian farmers rely primarily on physical labor for transplanting, fertilizer application, weed control, and other activities through harvest. Farms are also typically family-run and smaller in Brazil; 25 hectares is considered a large farm.

Globally, farmers face similar challenges including how to produce more with less, make incremental process improvements, and employ cultural practices to ensure a successful crop.

Based on their semi-tropical climate, Brazil lettuce growers also face the risk of many diseases. The Seminis breeding organization is working to introduce new disease resistance into lettuce varieties for the Brazilian market.

“This is a major concern for lettuce production,” Bill Waycott, Seminis lettuce breeder, said. “There is a major opportunity for Monsanto in this area.  Breeding for natural disease resistance by incorporating traits from wild species often takes up to eight years to yield a commercial variety.  But the payoff is potentially big as well; successful varieties can provide growers with significant advantages and stay in the market for 15 to 20 years.”

With 10,000 kilometers between Salinas and Sao Paulo, farmers in both areas don’t normally receive the opportunity to share ideas and practices. However, the recent visit indicates that communication among lettuce growers is beneficial.

“You can’t imagine the growers’ satisfaction,” Fernando Guimaraes, Monsanto Brazil vegetable business manager, said. “This visit helped support both the farmers and our business; it marked the beginning of a new relationship.”