By Rob Wile
Since World War II, the U.S. has been hailed as the world's breadbasket, pumping grains and meat from its fertile heartland out to the world.
But another country is snatching that mantle away: Brazil.
In 2001, Brazilian agricultural exports totaled $16 billion, according to USDA analyst Oliver Flake. By 2010 exports had climbed to a record $62 billion and reached approximately $80 billion in 2011.
That represents an increase of 400 percent over 10 years. Comparatively, U.S. exports rose about 175 percent over the same period, Flake says.
What's their secret?
A place called Mato Grosso.
Here's where Mato Grosso is located.
Mato Grosso is comprised four large clusters of farms.
This is the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics' version of that map.
Brazil is top 5 worldwide for most major crops, and is now the fourth-largest grains producer in the world.
Mato Grosso is usually No. 1 within Brazil for each of those categories.
The satellite view of the patchwork of crops is amazing.
Many farms - like this one near the town of Ipiranga do Norte - are carved straight out of the forest.
Mato Grosso farmers have been major beneficiaries of Brazil's explosive growth in arable land - up 26 percent between 2001 and 2009.
The one farmer in the middle of this plot in the Vera region controls about 8,300 acres.
Brazil's agricultural growth has been led by the Embrapa, or Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation.
Embrapa is responsible for transforming the country's savannah region - at the center of which is Mato Grosso - into what the New York Times calls the country's "grain belt."
The satellite views of Mato Grosso are spectacular. Here's some grazing livestock near a town called Sinop.
And again, the spontaneous geometry is breathtaking.
The region's success has not been without controversy - deforestation has become a major concern.
The government is partially responsible. Brazil's farming growth has been subsidized by the government, to the tune of $64 billion, about six percent of the country's budget.
But multinationals are also a major presence. Here's a Cargill plant in the southern part of the state.
And just up the road is a mega ag plant with 20 processing facilities.
Who's eating all of Mato Grosso's food? For meat, the Middle East.
China buys 52 percent of Mato Grosso's soybean exports.
Mato Grosso is landlocked and must rely on this single route to reach the port of Sao Paolo.
But that has produced another milestone: Sao Paolo is now the largest port in Latin America.
Sao Paolo port handles 780,000 tons of goods a day.
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