How will the world feed a global population of more than 9 billion people by the year 2050?

That’s one of the questions 16 faculty members from the animal science department of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) tackled with their counterparts from the University of São Paulo at a symposium earlier this year in Brazil on topics ranging from animal welfare to productivity.

Brazilian farmers have “huge potential” in terms of feeding a good portion of the world, said David Gerrard, the head of the Animal and Poultry Sciences department at Virginia Tech.

Brazil’s year-round warm climate, for example, allows farmers there to produce more than one corn crop a year, while U.S. farmers produce corn once a year in the summer. Brazil also already has twice as many cattle as the U.S.

Saulo da Luz e Silva, head of the University of São Paulo’s animal science department, said that both the U.S. and Brazil “are great players in the world market of food,” specifically meat. “The union of this knowledge will have an important impact for the productive systems of both countries and, consequently, for the world,” he said.

Sharing research to improve productivity

One important concern of both the Brazilian and the American academics is how heat stress affects the productivity of beef and dairy cattle. They asked important questions such as “How do you produce high-quality beef in environments where you have some increases in temperature?” and “How do you get animals to milk when it’s hot out?” Gerrard said.

“Many of the issues we face in the U.S. in working with beef producers to address new technologies and strategies for managing their herds are similar to the ones faced in Brazil,” said Bain Wilson, a beef nutrition specialist at Virginia Tech.

The Virginia Tech faculty are looking forward to the next phase of their U.S.-Brazil collaboration as three visiting scientists and at least a half-dozen graduate students head from the University of São Paulo to Virginia Tech to further their research.

“While the U.S. might be further along in addressing some issues, Brazil is further along in others, so being able to collaborate with them could enhance both countries’ work to improve animal welfare,” said Erica Feuerbacher, an animal behavior and welfare specialist.