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Touring Argentina, Uruguay

By Staff | Mar 4, 2011

Many of us who track daily agricultural news and world affairs are keenly aware of Argentina’s potential for growth, and increasing presence in the world commodities market.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an agricultural-based travel experience to Argentina and Uruguay through South Dakota State University, where I am currently a junior majoring in agronomy, with agri-business/animal science minors.

The trip was an absolutely incredible eye-opening experience for me, as well as the other 17 students on the trip. We were exposed to many aspects of production agriculture and toured several large-scale farms and ranches to investigate how they operate, and why it is so vastly different from what we consider the “norm” here in the Midwest United States.

Argentine producers face a variety of seemingly impossible challenges everyday that many of us do not ever consider here. While we noticed many similarities between our operations here in the Midwest and Argentina (such as unpredictable weather) we observed even more differences – including levels of government involvement, crop-growing strategies, and livestock production programs.

Argentines pay out a severe tax on every commodity they bring to market – 35 percent on all grains and 15 percent on all livestock they sell.

Also, they have no source of reliable or affordable financing, and because of it, are unable to take out any kind of operating notes from banks or any other financial institutions.

Everything they purchase – from crop inputs to equipment – is through a cash-only transaction. In addition, crop insurance policies are extremely expensive, making them an impossiblity for most growers.

All of this leads to the Argentine government’s agricultural policies working against the producer.

The country’s extended growing season is one ally, however, that allows them to help “insure” themselves against complete losses since actual crop insurance is more or less unavailable.

They raise mostly corn, soybeans and sunflowers, and have crops at different growth stages – anywhere from seedlings to tasseling – in any given area. This is a saving grace for them, so that whenever they receive bountiful rains, one of the crops is likely to be prosperous; even if they lose one to drought.

The topsoil is shallow and composed mostly of clay, and they have virtually no accessible water table, so even if they could afford it, irrigation could not be employed in most places.

Argentina is well-known for its grass-fed beef industry, but we discovered that is becoming less and less important as financial goals change.

As soybean prices have risen, so has the amount of land being taken out of livestock production and put into row-crops, which is currently more profitable.

Most cattle operations were based on pastures and grazing thousands of acres; but today, feedlots are a new concept as they begin to realize the value and potential capability of their land.

They are (in general) a great distance behind the U.S. in the ways of technology, mostly due to lack of availabile capital.

In addition to visiting Argentine farms and ranches, which was my personal favorite part, we also visited their board of trade in Rosario.

This was a very interesting visit, especially since I have never even been to our board of trade in Chicago. I realized the world watches us.

They don’t start trading until the U.S. opens at 9:30 a.m., which is 12:30 p.m. in Argentina, who started trading livestock on the board three years ago. Proior to that livestock growers sold privately.

We also visited the largest livestock market, Linier’s, where cattle are sold by the pen and the buyers follow the auctioneer on catwalks over the facility.

The cattle are sorted, moved, and stirred during the sale by men on horses, which seemed very foreign to me.

We spent some time in different cities also. It is hard to compare their large cities to ours in the United States, as I have spent little time anywhere bigger than Sioux Falls, S.D.

In all honesty, it is difficult to attempt to re-cap the entire trip on paper. Everything we did everyday was new and different to me.

It took energy to “soak in” all the new surroundings. Thankfully, we brought an translator with us who used to farm, which made the trip much more enjoyable.

While the language barrier was an obstacle, it also made communication interesting. Since the translator could not be available for every single conversation, we ended up acting things out, and our communication was surprisingly effective even though we spoke little or no Spanish and they knew little to no English.

We had a thirteen-hour lay-over in Dallas, Texas on our journey home, and while I was absolutely exhausted, it gave me plenty of time to consider the trip. There are many things I will remember. I made new friends-not only with the contacts we encountered in South America, but with the other students on the trip as well. I am thankful to have the opportunity to be involved with American agriculture, especially now that I have learned a little bit about agriculture in another country.

Most importantly, the trip reminded me to be grateful for everything I have available to me as an American, and to also be grateful for the opportunities I have taken advantage of in my life. Many kids will never have the chance to visit another country to be reminded of how good we actually do have it here in the United States.

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