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WSU Student Finds Brazilian Ag Internship a Growing Experience

Posted by struscott | January 22, 2008

Working on the foundation for a new bio-diesel plant, doing feasibility studies, and learning Portuguese is exactly the kind of internship Washington State University senior Adele Durfey was looking for.

And she found it in Brazil, after thumbing through “The Furrow,” a John Deere publication.

“When I first got here, I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve learned so many useful skills since I’ve been here,” said Durfey, who is a double major in international business and agricultural technology and management.

Durfey stands with company owner Tyler Bruch and another intern at the edge of “The Escarpment” a local geological feature.

Durfey is working for Global Ag Investments, which is located in Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, Bahia, Brazil. The company facilitates investment opportunities for partners interested in diversifying risks through agricultural investments in Brazil, according to the company’s Web site.

Currently, the company owns and rents approximately 30,000 acres in the area and is building a 30-million-gallon, multi-million-dollar bio-diesel plant in the near future, Durfey said.

“I’m helping to clean up the Web site for potential investors in the bio-diesel plant to look at first,” Durfey said. “They can check out the company and then contact us via the site if they have any questions.”

Durfey never thought she’d be working with Web sites, but finds she is up to the challenge.

“I’ve gained some new skills, and I got to take all the pictures featured on the company Web site,” she said.

In addition to her work on the bio-diesel Web site, Durfey conducted a feasibility study on popcorn. Global Ag Investments wanted to know if it would be feasible to grow popcorn, package it and then sell it locally.

“I had to find all this information for that, like equipment costs, labor costs and things like that,” Durfey said. “It was difficult for me because I don’t speak much Portuguese.”

Durfey is learning the language quickly though.

“I’m starting to understand conversations more,” Durfey said. “When people ask me a question I understand what their question is, but it’s still hard to get the words out to respond.”

A different view of “The Escarpment”

The exposure to a new culture has been one of the best parts of the internship experience for Durfey. The airport was the first place she noticed a difference.

“The airport is open and has no walls or window, and all the girls were wearing high heels. I didn’t want to stand out when I got there so I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes,” Durfey said.

Driving was another area where differences were apparent. The two-lane roads are used in a free-for-all driving style where passing three-wide into oncoming traffic is commonplace, Durfey said.

“I also saw a bunch small fires burning in the outskirts of town,” Durfey said. “It’s the dry season down here, and none of the buildings are made of wood so no one seemed too worried about these fires.”

The relaxed atmosphere has caused Durfey to further understand the term “Brazilian time” which varies greatly from the set time of an appointment.

“I had an 8 o’clock appointment, and the person didn’t show up until 9,” Durfey said. “In the U.S., you’d have thought they ditched you, but down here they have their own time.”

Durfey and another intern stand in front of the sign marking the edge of a future Global Ag Investments property.

The agricultural sector is where Durfey sees the biggest differences.

“The sheer size of the farms is enormous,” Durfey said. “If you ever want to know what it feels like to be an ant, take a walk through one of the fields here. You feel absolutely miniscule.”

The farms are so large that Tyler Bruch, chief executive officer for Global Ag Investments, bought a plane to save the hours of driving from farm to farm on a daily basis, Durfey said.

“It can be an enormous time saver,” Durfey said.

The major crops grown in the area are soybeans, swtichgrass, cotton, corn, other beans and coffee. Producers use similar equipment to their U.S counterparts; John Deere and Massey Ferguson tractors make a regular appearance outside Durfey’s office window.

“The technology is slightly delayed because it’s so hard to get the items needed, such as plastic for the cotton baler,” Durfey said.

Agriculture in the area is experiencing a huge boom akin to the boom the western U.S. agricultural sector saw during the Dust Bowl era, she added.

“The area used to be a truck stop, but now, because of agriculture, it is growing at a considerable rate, by approximately 8,000 people per year,” said Durfey. “I would really like to see what the area looks like 20 years from now.”

She was originally scheduled for a summer internship; however, after proving herself a valuable asset to the company, Bruch requested she stay until December.

“She was asked to return because just the summer months didn’t allow her to finish the business and marketing plans and assist with the final presentations to the investors,” said Jim Durfey, Adele’s father and an instructor in the department of crop and soil sciences at WSU.

After a quick trip home in August, Adele returned to Brazil. She is taking a full-load of online courses through WSU’s distance degree program, in addition to her duties for Global Ag Investments.

“I bought Adele a webcam to keep in touch with the family,” said Jim Durfey. “But I’m also able to bring her into my AgTM seminar and AFS 101 courses to talk about agriculture on an international level. Agriculture isn’t bound by the traditional borders we think of anymore and having my students talk to Adele helps them understand that concept better.”

Spring planting has now begun, and Durfey is putting time in on the tractor. She is planting cotton and working with the business side as well.

“I did a lot, from shadowing the CEO to helping a co-worker do GPS mapping, to planting cotton, to a little paper pushing type stuff in the office,” Durfey said. “It was diverse, it kept my mind active, and I enjoyed it.”

Durfey will begin her permanent appointment with Global Ag Investments immediately after graduation. Durfey will graduate in May of 2008 with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in International Business and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Agricultural Technology and Management.

By Samantha Graf, Marketing, News, and Educational Communications