(New throughout, adds BRF factory impact, more towns)
By Gustavo Bonato
SINOP, Brazil, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Truckers protesting high fuel prices blocked main roads across Brazil on Monday for a sixth day, leading to fuel shortages in some towns, stalled factories and threatening diesel supply for machines harvesting an expected record soybean crop.
The hardest hit state was Mato Grosso, Brazil’s largest grain and livestock producer, where a group of transportation firms and independent truckers blocked the flow of goods along five stretches of the crucial BR-163 highway, according to Rota do Oeste, which administers the highway. Trucks were backed up for at least three kilometers (two miles) in places.
In some smaller towns, there is a shortage of diesel oil for farm equipment, said Silvesio de Oliveira, a representative of farmers association Aprosoja.
“We are worried. It’s not a widespread problem so far, but soon we could see a general diesel shortage,” he said.
The trucker protests are part of a blowback against higher fuel taxes, one of several unpopular measures that President Dilma Rousseff is counting on to shore up government accounts.
Towns in the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina were also suffering from fuel shortages due to road blocks, according to the fuel distributors association Sindicom.
“If this goes on for another day or two it could turn into a really serious situation,” Luciano Liborio, director of supply at Sindicom.
Brazil’s BRF SA, the world’s biggest chicken exporter, said production at two of its factories in Parana had stopped due to the road blocks, with the company unable to secure certain raw materials. The company did not say what the impact of this would be on production.
The soybean harvest in Mato Grosso reached 25 percent of the planted area by Friday, down from 45 percent from the same time last year, mainly due to delayed planting and recent rains that have slowed harvesting.
Traders and analysts have told Reuters that the protests are already affecting deals for the freshly harvested soybeans.
Large traders have started offering lower prices, trying to hedge possible fines from delays getting beans to port, but farmers seek higher prices, stalling most negotiations.
Protesters, who also complain of low freight prices due to a glut of trucks on the road, were expected to meet state officials on Monday to negotiate a possible cut in fuel taxes. (Additional reporting by Marta Nogueira, Roberto Samora; Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Editing by Bernadette Baum)