Buenos Aires, Pergamino, Argentina

Monday – Jan. 29

We arrived at the Liniers Livestock Market in Buenos Aires at 7:30 a.m. Today, they received by truck, 8,736 heads, and 1 fallen and 6 dead (insurance covers the dead). All the cattle are sold by 9 a.m. To view the yards, we walked above the yards on catwalks. At various locations, 20 or so buyers would also be walking along above the cattle with an auctioneer. He would be auctioning each pen and each buyer would be making his bid. As soon as the auctioneer had reached the high bid, he would slap his stick on the rail and they would move to the next pen. A runner took the data to a local phone where it was reported to the central office - the information was then entered into their main computers.

All cattle are trucked in the night before. An average of 200,000 head are received per month or about 50,000 per week. Almost all were either Hereford or Angus. All cattle are sold for slaughter, and 90% is consumed domestically and 10% exported to Europe. The sold cattle are transported 30 to 60 kilometers (18 to 37 miles) to slaughter plants. According to the stockyards individual who guided us, this market sets the price for neighboring countries. Argentina or any of the surrounding countries do not have any foot-and-mouth disease or mad cow disease.

There are about 50 commission companies at the yards. Some companies represent the sellers and some represent the packers. The seller pays a 3% commission to market his cattle. The auction company represents the farmer. If the buyer doesn’t pay, the auction company has to.

When the cattle leave the farm they must travel with two certificates. One is for health, and the other is for taxes and brand certification. The stockyards typically sell 10,000 head per day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday are the big days. The cattle arrive between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and are unloaded at the dock. A computer keeps track of the cattle throughout the duration from arrival to departure.

Once the cattle are auctioned, gauchos (cowboys) move the cattle to the scales for final payment weight. We viewed the computer data that is provided to both the buyer and seller. Extensive information is available. Although this market seems very large, only 20% of the daily cattle sales of Argentina go through Liniers Livestock Market. The other 80% are sold through local auctions or directly from the farmer to the packer. Only a small amount is slaughtered by the farmer. The Buenos Aires stockyards reminded me of the old Chicago Stockyards of 60 years ago on the near south side of down town Chicago on Halsted Street. I was at the Chicago stockyard on many occasions. The difference is that everything is computerized now.

Argentina has about 50 million head. Domestic consumption fixes the price. Per capital beef consumption is about 67 kilos (147.7 lbs.).

We left the stockyards about 9:30 a.m. and entered the main highway for our trip to the Pampas area – the real reason for our trip to Argentina. As we settled into the seats on the bus, we soon saw a large supermarket that buys and slaughters about 10% of the Argentina beef. Across the road was a large Wal-Mart store and just a little farther was a large roadside billboard advertising Coke.

We were on a five- or six-lane highway similar to our Interstate highways, and the turnoffs and entrances are built similar to those in the U.S. Buenos Aires has suburbs similar to those in the U.S. I saw lots of U.S. company signs and General Motors and Ford car dealers. About the only way I knew I wasn’t in some area of the U.S. was the fact that all the signs were in Spanish.

As we got farther into the Pampas, we saw vast open areas of gently rolling but mostly flat topography. You could see for miles and miles. There are a few trees and small woods and brush here and there. On several occasions, I felt like I was traveling through the boot heel of Missouri or the northeast Arkansas Delta country. Other areas seemed like the open cattle country of central and northern Florida.

Once we left the metropolitan area, we drove west from Buenos Aires on an excellent two-lane blacktop highway. We met many livestock trucks loaded with cattle. Later we stopped at a gas station to use the restrooms and get a Coke or bottle of water. If I hadn’t known different, I would have thought I was at a new convenience gas station in the U.S.

We saw thistle patches (looked like Canada Thistles) along some areas of the roadsides. But I never saw any in the crops or pastures. We saw lots of DeKalb seed signs in front of corn and soybean fields, and we went past a good size DeKalb plant. We saw several sunflower fields, chicken barns like in the U.S. and lots of quarter horses. Practically all fields are fenced with four or five strands of wire (not barb) to keep the cattle in.

Farm Visit #1

Our first farm stop was at a farm near Pergamino, Argentina. An absentee owner who is a lawyer and lives in Buenos Aires owns the farm. The farm is set up as a corporation – as are many of the Argentina farms. An on site manager with a business degree lives on the farm and oversees the daily and weekly activities. He provides operating budgets and income and expense reports to the owner. The farm is about 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres). Like many of the Argentina farms, this farm is all custom farmed. All the planting, spraying, fertilizer application, harvesting and trucking of crops is done with custom hired equipment and labor.

All soybeans are rotated in a corn-soybean-wheat-double crop soybean rotation. We saw different fields with lots of double crop soybeans at various heights from waist high to 5 or 6 inches tall. This indicates that they had planted into wheat stubble over a several weeks period. They carry crop hail insurance. This farm had on farm storage for most of their crop production. Many of the farms in the area do not have on farm storage, and they must go directly to the port at harvest (Rosario). The manager said the railroads are not good in this area and trucking is the preferable way to transport the soybeans.

Row width of corn was 70 cm (27.6 inches). The manager indicated that he thought 50% of the planting and spraying and that 80% of the harvesting is custom. He said the farms are getting larger.

The manager had a cell phone with him, and he says all the custom machine operators have them. He said it is easy to find the custom people when he needs them. He has two-way radios within the farm. He uses the Internet frequently for agriculture information, weather and the markets.

We left the farm and proceeded to Pergamino and checked into the Hotel Fenicia. This was the poorest hotel we stayed at. The rooms were extremely small along with an old window air conditioner. You got from the lobby to the room by walking or riding a really old elevator that only held one person and his baggage. The town’s population is 79,000. The main street shopping area was similar to any Midwestern city of that size.


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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.