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A truck driver covers his face to protect himself from dust as he waits to unload his cargo of cereal grain at the rail terminal of America Latina Logistica, along highway BR-364 in Alto de Araguaia, Mato Grosso Sept. 24, 2012. Brazil’s rail network is smaller than it was 90 years ago. (NACHO DOCE/REUTERS)
A truck driver covers his face to protect himself from dust as he waits to unload his cargo of cereal grain at the rail terminal of America Latina Logistica, along highway BR-364 in Alto de Araguaia, Mato Grosso Sept. 24, 2012. Brazil’s rail network is smaller than it was 90 years ago. (NACHO DOCE/REUTERS)

The long, brutal haul from farm to port in Brazil Add to ...

On Tuesday night, we slept at another rest stop.

At midday on Wednesday, Mr. Mendonca pulled into a restaurant in the north of Sao Paulo, the last state on the journey.

There, a worker said she sees benefits from the new law.

“Before, you would see truck drivers coming in with their eyes almost closed,” says Nilda Pereira Alves Pinto, who works the restaurant’s CB radio, touting its rice and beans over the airwaves. “They aren’t in such a rush any more.”

Few disagree with the law’s aims, but some complain it makes it harder to meet demand and raises costs. “If they don’t let us drive overnight there won’t be enough trucks,” said Marcelo Galbati, a self-employed trucker waiting for a tire repair.

Ms. Rousseff’s plans include extending a farm-belt highway to a terminal on the Tapajos, an Amazon tributary that flows toward ports in the north. Despite boasting some of the world’s biggest rivers, little Brazilian freight sails.

The link will offer a route 900 kilometres shorter to the Atlantic from 2014 but barge capacity will be limited by shallow waters.

On Wednesday evening, we bypassed Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest city, and the traffic thickened as trucks from across Brazil funnel onto the two highways to Santos, 80 kilometres away.

The lack of rest areas was painfully clear. Mr. Mendonca paid a 150-reais toll for one highway but had to circle back and re-pay after leaving the road, only to find all rest stops were full. He’d gone beyond his legal driving time but had nowhere to stop.

At 2 a.m., as we descended through Atlantic rain forest, a wreck halted traffic. An hour later, we reached a rest stop.

“It’s looking ugly,” a gate attendant said, waving Mr. Mendonca in to try his luck for a parking spot to end a 20-hour day.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Mendonca waited for clearance to proceed to the Santos terminal just 20 kilometres away where Archer Daniels Midland Co., the U.S. commodities trader, receives truckloads of grain and dispatches them on bulk carrier ships.

The port is infamous for red tape and is strained by rising cargo volumes. Not until 4 p.m. was the terminal ready for Mr. Mendonca. By then, though, unloading would mean leaving port late and another scramble for a rest stop, so he instead decided to sleep at the terminal’s waiting area.

It wasn’t until Friday morning, nearly seven days after he first left Rondonopolis, that Mr. Mendonca was finally able to pull up to a platform and offload, just metres from the docked bulk carrier ships filling with grain bound for other continents.

The corn’s value: $10,200. The cost of the haul: $3,800.

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