We are more than 6,000 miles from home in the United States, beginning our Farm Futures tour of Brazil. But it doesn't take long to discover, if there was any doubt, that people are people, just about everywhere.
After a flight of more than 10 hours, our first full day is spent in Rio, decompressing and getting used to a four-hour time difference (when it's 6 a.m. here, the central time zone is still sound asleep at 2 a.m.), language barriers (signs are in Portuguese, Spanish and English), and the fact that it's summer in the southern hemisphere.
Though we're here to find out first-hand about Brazilian agriculture in Parana, the number one corn and number two soybean producing state, to start we're seeing the sights in the country's number two city. We're staying across from the famed Copacabana Beach, watching workers build soundstages for one of the many concerts that will soon blare music from the annual Carnival next week.
"We have to make young people realize agriculture is a good business," Henrique de Salles Goncalves told our group of U.S. farmers.
Our first journey is to take the cog railroad up to the Cristo -- the statute of Christ overlooking the city and its panorama of beaches and harbor. At the base of the statue, tourists from around the world have their picture taken with arms outstretched. Tourists are tourists, no matter where they're from.
Rio is a big, exotic city, but we're ready to hit the real reason for our trip. And on our first stops in Parana, it's clear that farmers here, though our competitors, have the same problems that U.S. producers face.
Tourists are tourists, no matter where they're from. Our group visited the famous Cristo, the Statue of Christ overlooking the city of Rio.
Agriculture is a boom business here, of course. But convincing young people to farm is an uphill battle against the lure of the city -- the same problem faced by several families on our tour.
"We have to make young people realize agriculture is a good business," says Henrique de Salles Goncalves, of SENAR, an organization similar to the Extension service back in the U.S.
U.S. farmers often are frustrated about how their businesses are portrayed in the media. Here the producers come under fire from the media in Europe, who believe they're cutting down the Amazon rain forest to grow sugar cane to produce ethanol -- a variant of the food vs. fuel debate.
"It is not true," says Pedro Loyola, an economist with FAEP, the organization lobbying for farmers and their interests in Parana. "We can produce enough sugar cane for ethanol and sugar here in this region. It is not necessary to cut down the rain forest."
And don't get these farmers started talking about the government. The latest mandate: new rules limiting drivers to four hours on the road, when they must take a break, at rest stops that don't exist.
"We will have huge production this year because weather is good, but not enough storage and we have no drivers," says Daniel Rosenthal, a Brazilian farmer and our guide through the region. Myriad other rules make farming a challenge here.
But life is good for Brazilian farmers, due to high prices, just like it's been in the U.S.
"I'm not complaining," says Rosenthal, to the laugh of the U.S. growers. "We all have problems, but I'm a happy farmer." –Read more about Brazil in our Feb. 2013 issue cover story