There are two words that particularly stir the competitive anxiety of U.S. beef producers — “Argentina” and “Brazil,” two countries with seemingly inexhaustible natural resources, cheap labor and governments pinning their people's future on agricultural development.

Brazil boasts the world's largest commercial cattle herd at 180-190 million head and 180-200 million acres of land available for grazing development. Argentina features 55 million head of beef cattle and an ocean of some of the planet's sweetest grazing in its Pampas region.

Both nations made high-profile, beef-industry news recently.

  • Brazil-based JBS-Friboi bought Greeley, CO-based Swift & Co. in a $1.4-billion deal. The purchase makes Friboi arguably the most powerful force in the global beef business.

  • In Argentina, U.S.-based Cactus Feeders and Tyson Foods inked a joint venture with the Argentine agricultural conglomerate Cresud to create the first fully vertically integrated beef operation in Argentina. The new company expects to produce beef products for the domestic Argentine consumer — and give Tyson access to high-value European beef markets.

Those two points of interest are just part of the travel opportunity offered by BEEF magazine and Montana State University in early 2008. Called “The 2008 Beef Study Tour to Argentina & Brazil,” it's tentatively set for Jan. 19 to Feb. 1, and includes a full itinerary of organized cattle-industry stops to various commercial and seedstock cattle farms, feedlots such as Cactus Argentina, agribusinesses, retail beef outlets and a JBS-Friboi packing plant.

The group of 25 men and women will interact with local cattle producers to learn how they deal with the opportunities and challenges of producing and marketing for both domestic and international markets. This “all-beef” tour is designed for anyone interested in sizing up the South American beef situation.

The flavor of two industries

The tour includes visits to a variety of cattle operations in both countries. Beef systems in Brazil and Argentina are quite different, as Argentina's temperate climate utilizes predominantly English cattle, while Brazil's sub-tropical climate necessitates more bos indicus blood.

The tour is coordinated with local tour professionals and translators who understand beef cattle production in their regions. Travelers will gain insight into the comparative advantages and disadvantages of these two beef powerhouses, and assess firsthand the competitive factors we all face in our day-to-day business.

The tour will also visit internationally renowned tourist sites, including the incredible Cataratas do Iguaçu — the international waterfalls listed among the seven natural wonders of the world. The tour ends with two days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The tour package price of $4,995/person (double occupancy) includes pre-tour orientation, airfare, hotels, most meals and in-country air and motor coach travel. Participants will need to cover airfare to/from Miami, Brazilian visa and incidentals. Deadline for tour application is Nov. 5, with a $1,000 deposit/person.

For a detailed itinerary and sign-up forms contact me at jroybal@beef-mag.com (952-851-4669); or Clint Peck, director of Montana Beef Quality Assurance, at cpeck@montana.edu (406-896-9068). To check out the itinerary, visit www.beefmagazine.com.

This tour of South American beef-production systems promises to be informative, interesting and fun. I hope you can join us.