Technology is no longer a privilege of large rural properties in Brazil. More and more small farmers are paying attention to new developments that ensure improvement in productivity, sustainability and profit. Access to technological innovation is usually ensured by means of cooperatives, associations, city halls, participation in lectures, seminars and field trips, often promoted by the research institutes themselves.
A good example of technology also found in small properties is bird farming in the state of Santa Catarina. "Nowadays, even when done in a family environment, bird farming is an activity that requires good infrastructure and large, equipped farms," says í‰lcio Figueiredo, head of the swine and poultry unit at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), installed in Santa Catarina.
According to him, the investment is usually made entirely by the farmer. "Some use their own funds, others use financing. When they work in partnership with large industries, the companies give the green light for them to obtain financing," says Figueiredo.
In the case of farmers working under the integration system, technology related to food security, genetics and race is supplied by the integrator. Sanitary and environmental care, in turn, can be sought from research institutes. Over the course of 33 years of existence of Embrapa Swine and Poultry, more than 400 technologies were made available to farmers.
"Nowadays, nutrition, vaccines and equipment are in the hands of the private industry. Environment, sanitation and new breeds are developed by Embrapa," explains Figueiredo. The organization also develops solutions with cisterns that enable the capturing, filtering and storage of rainwater.
In the property owned by the family of Itacir Weber, in the municipality of Barra do Pinhal, much has changed since the youngest brother concluded a technical course in animal husbandry and encouraged investment in technology and improvement in the property. "We noticed a huge boom in productivity. We possessed little knowledge of new technologies that were available to small farmers as well," he claims.
The first change was the installation of a cistern to collect rainwater. The 328,000 liters collected quench the thirst of the 2,000 egg-laying hens, some heads of cattle and the 220 swine raised under the integration system with a local chicken farm. "Prior to the cistern we used water from a tap that went dry during drought periods. In those occasions, we would bring water in from the river using a tractor," says Weber.
"Investment was low and the return was excellent. Since we were the first ones to build a cistern in our municipality, many a neighbor came here to check it out, and in a short while they followed our example," Weber proudly states.
The 2,000 egg-laying hens are of the 051 lineage, developed by the Embrapa. They are raised in a semi-confined system. When weather is dry, they are set loose in the fenced areas underneath the orchard. Output totals 1,800 eggs per day. Presently, the family collects and classifies everything manually. The next step will be to purchase a classifying machine. "The machine is going to help a lot, because it classifies according to the size and also cleans the eggs," he says.
At the barn, the perch was built using a simple system, by which a screen prevents contact with waste, which is later used in composting.
In another locality within the region, farmer Camilo Marafom has been investing in property diversification. For approximately a year, he has been raising organic green chickens and egg-laying hens, also under the semi-confined system. "In this way, the chickens do not eat feed alone, they are freer to develop in a natural manner," explains Marafom. In the 50-hectare property, he also produces milk, raises sheep, plants corn, and this year he farmed 1,200 grape vines. "Green chicken is sold to the cooperative every three months. Investment is not high and return is guaranteed," he says.
Agricultural research has already developed products and technological processes capable of increasing milk production fourfold in Brazil. Researchers developed work turned to formation and recuperation of grazing land; production of foraging ground for the winter season and silage of corn and sorghum; intensive systems and systems for production in grazing grounds and confinement; animal and vegetable improvement; quality of milk; etc.
"The work focused on competitiveness of production, aligned to sustainability and to environmental preservation," explained researcher Rodolpho Torres, from Embrapa Dairy Cattle.
According to him, Embrapa has around 100 research projects in development. The actions are distributed in three research, development and innovation nuclei and they cover genetics, well being and animal reproduction, feeding and foraging, quality of milk and animal health, and socio-economics.
Torres helped spread feeding technology for dairy cattle during the dry seasons, using sugarcane associated to urea. "Small farmers do not have funds to organize silage and many end up having a reduction in production due to lack of food in dry periods (May to October)."
This feeding system was developed by Embrapa in 1979. It is forwarded to farmers through the Rural Extension and Technical Assistance Company (Emater), through cooperatives, and also through days of training.
Other technology has already been successfully transferred to other producers is the strategic control of cattle ticks. The recommendation is that the tick insecticide be applied every 21 days and that the ticks be analyzed every six months, to evaluate whether the insecticide is working or if it needs to be replaced.
Brazil has 1.3 million producers of milk and 80% work on manual milking. Aware of the need for these small and medium producers, Embrapa developed a manual milking kit. Defined as a social technology at the hands of small producers, the kit is composed of simple utensils associated to a book of instructions with guidance regarding manual milking.
The project developed by Embrapa Dairy Cattle counted on partnership with the Ministry of Agrarian Development, Emater-MG, Embrapa Semiarid and Arthur Bernardes Foundation (Funarbe), connected to the Federal University of Viçosa.
According to Marne Moreira, joint head at the Embrapa Dairy Cattle, the work proves that it is possible to work on manual milking with the same quality and technical ability, or even better quality, than that obtained with mechanical milking. The bacterial count, one of the factors that determines the quality of the product, is usually very high in this kind of milking. This takes place due to incorrect procedures that cause deficient hygiene both on the cow's teats, on the hands of the milkers and on the equipment used.
To prove the viability of the kit, Embrapa Dairy Cattle researchers promoted tests starting in October 2006 considering seven states in almost all the Brazilian regions (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and South). Such studies show that more adequate use may reduce the bacterial count from between 40% to 85%.
Examples of this are the figures collected among a group of farmers from Pernambuco: before the use of the kit, the bacterial count (samples tested 15 minutes after milking) was around 820,000 Colony Forming Units (CFU) per milliliter of milk. With the utensils recommended and the correct hygiene procedures the CFU level dropped to 133,000/ml in the same period after milking.
The producer sets up his kit according to the material he has on his property. The complete kit costs around R$ 150 (US$ 64). The success of the initiative was so great that the idea was exported to other tropical countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. There is also a chance of it being taken to Angola and Uganda, in Africa, and India and Pakistan, in Asia.
"The kit adds value to the milk produced as it reduces the bacterial count. It is safer for the producer, for the industry and for the consumer," stated Moreira.
Farmer Liberalino de Castro Lopes has been using the kit for a year. On his property in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, he has 35 dairy cows. Daily production is 250 liters of milk and sales go to a local cheese factory.
"We always milked manually and took great care with things like washing the cow's teats with chlorinated water and rinsing them off. The kit, apart from being more hygienic, is faster and more practical. With the lower volume of bacteria I can make 20 centavos (US$ 0,11) more per liter of milk," celebrates the farmer.
As he is a member of the board at the Rural Union of Juiz de Fora, Lopes is always present at the meetings, talks and field trips in the city. After that, he puts into practice what he learnt with the technicians.