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January 2, 2013

Labor Shortages Challenge Large Soybean Producers in Brazil

One of the challenges facing soybean farmers in central Brazil is the lack of qualified workers necessary to operate a large soybean farm. In a recent survey conducted by the Mato Grosso Soybean and Corn Producers Association (Aprosoja-MT), 70% of the farmers in the state reported that they are having difficulty finding enough qualified workers for their farming operation. The problem appears to be worse in western Mato Grosso where 77% of the farmers are having difficulty.

The labor shortage is due to two factors. The first factor is that many of these farms are located in remote areas many kilometers removed from the nearest town or city. That requires that the workers either live on the property or nearby while most of the spouses and families remain living in town. Most spouses are unwilling to relocate to the farms due to the lack of schooling or additional employment opportunities. These living arrangements limit the number of workers with families willing to accept employment on the farms.

The other factor causing labor shortages is the changing nature of farming and the requirement for more highly trained employees. Gone are the days of untrained workers just operating a simple tractor. Today, a successful soybean farm may be involved in precision farming and complex production schemes. The machinery needed to operate the farm and any additional processing facilities is also much more complex. If a farmer purchases several hew combines for example, he needs to send numerous employees to receive extensive training from the manufacturer in order to insure that the expensive equipment is operated properly.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this shortage and the problem may even get worse as agricultural production continues to expand in Brazil at a brisk pace.