Brazilian farmers learn about precision irrigation

HERMISTON, Ore. — Fred Ziari of IRZ Consulting and most of the 30 Brazilian farmers he hosted in Hermiston this week don’t speak the same language — but they do share a common goal.

“We are blessed because we have food,” Ziari said, gesturing to nearby trays of fruit and pastries laid out for the guests from Brazil. “But I travel to Africa and other places every year where people are extremely hungry. As well, our state of Oregon looks beautiful but we have hunger here, too. All of us, Brazilian and American, need to play a vital role in feeding the world.”

IRZ Consulting, one of multiple businesses that Ziari has founded, helps farmers around the world increase their efficiency and yield through high-tech irrigation. Ziari said the Hermiston-based business hosts visiting farmers from other countries for an “international exchange of ideas.”

Leonel Olivira, a soybean farmer from the Brazilian state of Bahia, said Tuesday he was most impressed by “how you can remote control your farms.”

“You can rule your farm with your cell phone,” he said. “It’s quite different here.

He said he was also interested to see how integrated farms and suppliers are in the United States.

Marcos Pooter, who grows soybeans, corn, wheat and sorghum, said he admired the “amazing” infrastructure in the country.

“Here, everything works,” he said. “In Brazil, you have to work a lot to do a little.”

He said he was interested in seeing how the pump stations used here are different than in Brazil, and he wanted to study the system further to see if it could be adapted well in the region where he grows crops.

Before the group set out for a second day of tours on Wednesday, Ziari hosted an informal question-and-answer session with one of the bilingual group members translating.

One grower asked how much of the world was using the advanced precision irrigation technology that they had seen at Herb Stahl’s farm during their tour. Ziari said worldwide, irrigation is at about 30 percent efficiency, but Stahl’s farm achieves about 90 percent efficiency.

“I think that it is a global model for efficiency, but we have large areas, many hectares in the United States that are not that efficient, that need to be brought up. But we are progressing fast,” he said.

Other questions were about the growth of agriculture in the United States, and whether the Eastern Oregon region could support more crops. Ziari said growth is limited in the United States not so much by land availability but by political issues. In 1900, 50 percent of Americans were involved in farming, he said, and now it’s less than three percent due to the technological advances that have made farming more efficient, and large corporations who are now operating many of them.

“Because we are now 2 percent of the population, politicians are ignoring the needs of agriculture,” he said.

He told the group that investment in new projects was needed for Brazil’s agricultural economy to grow, and the investment community was interested.

Olivira said Brazil was ready. And if the government stabilized, the country’s agriculture could reach the level of technology used in the United States “very fast.”

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