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Brazil Farmers Return To School To Keep Their Edge

The global commodities boom and tougher competition are pushing more and more Brazilian farmers to take business degrees, even though some of them barely graduated from high school.

Firms offering MBAs say they have seen a surge in demand from Brazil s rural areas and they are now offering programs across the vast interior, far from the big coastal cities.

A combination of strong farm profits and the arrival of new competitors looking to take advantage of high grains prices is behind the demand for better business and management skills.

I m not an agronomist. I only made it through high school, said Jose Milton Falavinha, chief executive of a 80-square-mile integrated farm in Mato Grosso, Brazil s main soybean state.

Along with many other farming leaders across the state, Falavinha is flying to the capital Cuiaba on the weekends for classes in business management, economics and accounting.

In rural areas, private school alternatives are most often non-existent, so it s no wonder that Falavinha, like his father Geraldo who started the farm in 1986 and his grandfather a pig farmer ended his education at high school to run the family business.

Geraldo Falavinha says farmers in the region need to be better prepared for the competition from deep-pocketed rivals.

His concern is underscored by the spread of Argentina s El Tejar and Los Grobo groups which have expanded rapidly in Brazil over the past several years by leasing rather than buying land from farmers. With access to international credit, scale and bargaining power, they can squeeze smaller producers.

Brazil is the world s No. 1 exporter of beef, poultry, coffee,

sugar and is the world s No. 2 soybean exporter.

Farming is also becoming more sophisticated, requiring more rigorous and skilled management.

Falavinha s integrated farm has one of the more advanced cattle production operations in Brazil, operating its own cotton production and ginning business and planting two grain crops a year, mostly soybeans its main breadwinner.

One of Brazil s most prestigious

graduate schools, Sao Paulo s Getulio Vargas, has expanded agricultural economics and MBA programs into 20 satellite courses across the farm belt.

And business schools such as Kroton, Anhanguera, Unopar, and Estacio are also investing to bring their programs closer to their new students.

Professors in management and leadership at the global training company Franklin Covey, are piling up frequent flier points travelling 1,000 miles from Sao Paulo to bring MBA classes twice a month to Cuiaba, Mato Grosso.

Not all the farmers are newcomers to higher education but they are still keen to take advantage of the new supply of advanced business courses within easy reach by regional airlines.

I ve already got an MBA and an MS in agricultural economics, as well as in accounting, but I m enrolled in classes in Cuiaba every couple of weeks to work on some leadership training designed for my needs, said farm owner and manager Darci Getulio Ferrarin Jr. from Sorriso, Mato Grosso, Brazil s biggest soy-producing municipality.

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I vealreadygotanMBAandanMSin agriculturaleconomics,aswellasinaccounting, butI menrolledinclassesinCuiabaevery coupleofweekstoworkonsomeleadership trainingdesignedformyneeds.

darci getulio ferrarin jr.

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