A Slice of Iowa in Brazil

A Slice of Iowa in Brazil

Growers looking to replicate the industrial-scale farming techniques common in the U.S. Midwest increasingly have a new destination: Brazil. In particular, Bahia, a coastal state in eastern Brazil, has emerged as one of the country’s premier areas for soybean and cotton production.

Large-scale, highly mechanized farming began in western Bahia in the 1970s as part of a government-sponsored effort to cultivate the cerrado, the vast tropical savanna that lies between Brazil’s Atlantic coast and the Amazon rainforest.

Although western Bahia is blessed with reliable rains and flat land, getting large farms established required considerable upfront investment. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation added large quantities of lime (pulverized limestone or chalk) to the soil to reduce its acidity. Brazilian plant scientists bred new types of soybeans and other crops that would be capable of withstanding a tropical climate. Government programs offered cheap credit to foreign investors with expertise in industrial-scale agriculture to entice them to come to Bahia.

The results of such efforts are visible in this image. Acquired on July 5, 2015, by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on Earth Observing-1, the image highlights farmland southwest of Luís Eduardo Magalhães, a town in western Bahia that has become a hub for agribusiness.

Aside from a few fields with center-pivot irrigation, most of these fields rely on rainfall. This part of Bahia receives about 1,800 millimeters (70 inches) of rain per year, enough for soybeans to grow. Common irrigated crops include cotton, coffee, and corn. Plots are large; farms in this area commonly exceed 5,000 hectares (12,500 acres). Structures visible in the image are likely homesteads, grain storage facilities, equipment sheds, and housing facilities for farm workers.

The curving patterns visible in some of the fields are contour banks, earthen structures designed to keep the soil moist and to prevent erosion.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data from the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Adam Voiland.

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