The Brazilian beef cattle population is to the beef world what the Chinese human population is to the world in general. In both cases, their numbers are so vast that even a minor change in those epicenters creates ripples felt globally.

That means the U.S. beef industry may find out how much truth there is to that old saying about it being easier to get to the top than it is to remain there. At least it might when you consider the sheer scope of the Brazilian beef cattle industry and its commitment to becoming the world’s leader in beef production.

“We really need to pay attention to what Brazil is doing and look for opportunities to apply it to our industry,” says Ky Pohler, a University of Missouri (MU) graduate student in beef reproductive physiology. He and classmate Dan Mallory spent part of last year working for Brazilian beef goliaths, the Marfrig Group and Lageado Agricultural Consulting, LTD.

Pohler and Mallory were the first students to work in Brazil as part of the innovative reproductive management internship sponsored by MU and Select Sires, Inc. Pohler and Mallory worked with 20,000 beef cows and heifers on 15 farms and ranches in three Brazilian states.

When Pohler returned home to the family’s beef operation in Texas, his father asked him whether he’d felt safe living and working in Brazil. Pohler said the only time he felt unsafe was when he caught the plane for home.

“That’s when I started thinking about what the beef industry is doing there and what we’re going to have to do in the U.S. to compete with them,” Pohler says.

Dave Patterson, MU professor of animal science, has been in Brazil twice in recent years, serving on beef educational programs. He also hosts beef producers and students from Brazil. “The energy in agriculture in Brazil is unbelievable and the bright young people being attracted to careers in agriculture are impressive,” Patterson says.

In fact, Brazilian beef associates tell Patterson that 40% of the available lending capital in the nation is earmarked for animal protein production.

“That’s one reason I felt like we needed to send some of our students there to work with their beef operations so they can see what’s coming at them,” Patterson says.