Pergamino and Venado Tuerto, Argentina

Tuesday. Jan. 30

As we left Pergamino, I saw many large fields that were planted in double crop soybeans. The prairie Pampas is too flat to use tile drainage because there are inadequate ditches to dump into. Some small fields were flooded out. We entered the providence of Santa Fe at 9:15 a.m. The view was - more of the same Pampas prairie. Once again, we saw lots of double crop soybeans. We saw several fields of seed corn, and it was usually planted under center pivot irrigation systems. We drove past a Morgan seed facility (I believe this is Mycogen now). We hardly ever saw farm buildings. Houses and buildings are few and far between, and those that are there are hidden in small groves of trees.

Farm Visit #2

This farm is 1,400 hectares (3,459 acres). Two family members own the property and have a manager to operate it. Rotation is soybeans-corn-wheat-double crop soybeans. The farm has 250 Holstein milking dairy cows and 20% of the land is devoted for dairy production. They have no-tilled everything for about 6 to 7 years. Because of the warm climate, seed emergence is not a problem with no-till. Again, this farm is farmed with custom equipment. They said 50% of the area is custom planted and 80% is custom combined. Although they had some alfalfa, they said it is not common since they went to soybeans-corn and the use of fertilizer quite a few years ago (similar to the Corn Belt history).

I finally learned what they call what looks like Canada thistle. They are called Cardos Thistles. We continued to see them along the roadsides. They said they need 7 tons/hectare (111 bushels/acre) of corn to breakeven. Land prices in this area are $3,500 to $4,000/hectare ($1,416 to $1,618/acre). He said prices got as high as $7,000/hectare ($2,832/acre) when soybean prices were high. He belongs to a group of 1,200 farmers called CREA. They have 13 groups, and they visit someone’s farm once a month to analyze his business.

All grain on this farm is trucked to Rosario. He said it costs him the same to take a ton of soybeans to Rosario as it costs a ship to haul a ton of soybeans from Rosario to China. It costs him $3/metric ton (8¢/bushel) to truck to Venado Tuerto (his nearest town). Then it costs $11/ton (30¢/bushel) to haul 100 miles to Rosario.

He is paying about $2.50 to $2.80/liter for Roundup ($9.46 to $10.60/gallon). He uses his own Roundup seed with no tech fees. Most farmers that we talked to said this is a common price and practice in Argentina. He said his input costs are $90 to $100/hectare ($36.42 to $40.46/acre). Yield average is around 3 tons (44.6 bushels/acre). Moisture at harvest is typically 17% to 18% for both corn and soybeans.

He says his breakeven yield is 1.7 tons (25.3 bushels/acre). The farm is 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Venado Tuerto. The road was sand all the way, and this was typical as soon as you left the highway throughout the Pampas.

He applies 50 to 60 kilograms (110 to 132 lbs.) of nitrogen fertilizer/acre and 70 to 100 kilograms (154 to 220 lbs.) of phosphorus/acre. The Pampas soils are high in potash and very little potash is used. He uses some sulfur and tries to return the nutrients taken by the crop. Soil tests are taken the same as U.S. and his pH is around 6.0 to 6.2. The manager’s name is David Mathew. He took us to the farmhouse where we met the owner. She was 89 years old and came to Argentina from Britain in 1934 as young girl when her father settled the farm. She has to go to the nearby village to get her mail and the daily paper. She said the economy was very unstable until about 1988 or 1989 when the government changed from military rule. She said it is much more stable now that the peso is tied to the U.S. dollar.

The manager, Dave Mathews, has been with this farm for seven years. He has an ag engineering degree and farms additional land himself and for his family.

They are planting no-till. Corn (maze) and wheat were their main crops 25 years ago and 40% to 50% of the farm was in pastures. This farm had a sandy loam soil texture. He said the soils in the area get sandier the farther south you go. As we left the farm, the wind became quite steady, and it was very humid with the temperature in the low 90s.

As we drove the roads, we saw lots of kids. School was out for summer vacation from December to March. They get a two-week winter vacation in July.

Farm Visit #3

Afternoon of January 30. We ate lunch at this farm. It was a relatively small farm with many enterprises such as corn, soybeans, small sow herd, small sheep flock, and some chickens. This farmer was well in his 60s. His grandfather developed all of the area farmland in 1912. They all came from Italy. His grandfather brought wood on the ship because there was no wood in the prairie Pampas at that time. He couldn’t get off the ship and was sent back to Italy because of yellow fever in the country. He later came back and settled on this farm.

He is trying to earn additional income by having tourist groups come to his farm for a tour and lunch. His son helps him farm, but he has a job in town teaching in order to survive. With the Argentina laws the farm was divided down through the generations and now his first cousin farms about 400 acres across the road. Most of the farms in this area are only 100 to 200 acres and the bigger farms are buying up the smaller farms. He said the Mormon Church owns 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) across the road. The farmer said the Mormons operate it with custom equipment. The farms in this area receive about 1,013 millimeters (40 inches) of rain/year.

I went into some detail about this stop, not that this individual was a top-notch soybean farmer, because he was not. In fact he was a marginal farmer hanging on by trying to come up with alternative ways to add income to the farm. We were told there are quite a few farmers in the Pampas in similar difficulty. The small U.S. "family farmer" is not the only one with financial stress and concerns about surviving on the farm.

We returned to Venado Tuerto and checked into our hotel. Venado Tuerto’s population is about 59,000. A side comment. Most of the retail stores in Argentina including those in Pampas prairie towns open about 10 a.m. Then they all close from about 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and re-open at 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Most people don’t eat until 8:30 p.m. or later. Most restaurants don’t open for the evening meal until 8:30 p.m.

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This online exclusive is being re-published with permission from Soybean Digest . Some minor revisions have been made by BEEF magazine editors.

For 2002 Travel Plans to South America see: www.kitt-travel.com.