Brazil's grain transportation still lags

by Eric Schroeder
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Brazil grain transportation issues
 
Brazil stands as one of the largest agricultural commodity producers in the world, but the nation’s infrastructure still lags behind other countries, according to a Sept. 20 Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Many of its main grain transport roads are still partially unpaved and very few railways are available for agricultural transport,” the USDA noted in the report. “Improvements to infrastructure are slowly being made and transportation costs have dropped in recent years, but there are still many areas that need to be improved for Brazil’s exports to remain competitive, especially in Brazil’s north and center-west regions.”

Brazil will need to improve its infrastructure if it wants to capitalize on record crop levels. According to the USDA, Brazil produced approximately 98.5 million tonnes of corn and 114 million tonnes of soybeans during 2016-17, record levels for both crops.

According to the National Association of Grain Exporters, roads account for approximately 60% of all grains/oilseeds cargo transported in Brazil, followed by railways at 30% and waterways at 10%.

In its GAIN report, the USDA indicated that the southern ports of Brazil (Santos, Rio Grande and Parangua) export the largest quantities of agricultural products. The Port of Paranagua loaded a record 2.02 million tonnes of grain in August, surpassing the previous record of 1.9 million tonnes set in June 2015. Exports included 644,035 tonnes of corn, 315,681 tonnes of soy bran and 1.068 million tonnes of soybeans.

However, backlog, long distances and increasing transportation costs at the ports have created a demand for more options for exporters.

Brazil grain production and exports
 
“Much of the grains and soybeans that are being produced in northern Mato Grosso, the state of Pará, and the MATOPIBA region are increasingly using the ports in the northern arc,” the USDA said. “Over the past five years, the private sector has made significant investments in railways, roads, and ports in the northern part of the country to facilitate the transport of commodities to the north, but there is still a lot of progress to be made. However, the northern arc is increasingly becoming an important option for exporters and one that will only become more efficient over time.”

Grain traders make investment

As agricultural production in Brazil has increased, private sector grain traders such as Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge and Cargill have responded to demand by building their own ports along the Amazon and Tapajós rivers, the USDA said.

“These private ports along the rivers, such as those in the town of Miritituba, allow companies to transport grains and soybeans in barges to ocean ports in Santarem and Bacarena,” the USDA said. “This allows for more efficient transportation of grains to these sea ports. Furthermore, the terminals along the Amazon and Tapajós rivers also reduce the stress on roadways in the north and the southern ports.”

The USDA noted in its report that the most significant investments in the past three years have taken place in river ports in the state of Pará. Companies such as ADM, Bunge and Cargill have invested in private terminals to transport grains out of northern Mato Grosso to river ports in Porto Velho and Miritituba.

“Using barges that can move up to 50,000 tonnes in one trip compared to 40 tonnes by truck, these companies are utilizing the Amazon and Tapajós rivers to connect with ocean ports in Santarem and Bacarena,” the USDA said.

The USDA indicated that a one-of-a-kind floating terminal in Miritituba that is used to load barges could become more common. The cost of a floating terminal is about a quarter that of a permanent terminal, but with the ability to handle about 90% of the daily grain capacity, the USDA said.

The USDA said there are several unfinished projects in the northern arc of Brazil, including the BR-163, the Ferrogrã railway, the Trans-Northeastern rail and the North-South railway. Paving on the BR-163 should have been finished in December 2012, but some contractors had to be replaced, creating delays, according to Brazil’s transportation infrastructure department. The work is now expected to be completed in December 2018.

Earlier this year, China, the leading consumer of Brazilian soybeans, announced it would contribute to the $20 billion Brazil-China fund for infrastructure projects in Brazil. One such project is the “Grain Railway,” which will connect the grain production region of Sinop, Mato Grasso to the port of Miritituba, Parana.

For every Brazilian dollar invested, China will put up three dollars.

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