Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Humid Pampa

The introduction of GM crops into the Humid Pampa region of Argentina between Buenos Aires and the city of Rosario has transformed the landscape from a pleasant mix of grasses, cattle and combinable crops to a sea of soya occasionally interspersed with maize. Livestock farmers are rare in this area, displaced by the highly profitable monoculture cropping of glyphosate-resistant crops.

Virtually all crops are direct drilled because, as Federico Rolle (my host for the day) pointed out, under conventional cultivation practices, Argentina was rapidly losing its topsoil. The planting and weather patterns were contributory factors to this erosion as soils were without crop cover in early spring, just as the heaviest rains fall in the region. Cultivated land washed away at an alarming rate and forced all arable farmers to look at, and change, their production systems.

The advent of Roundup-resistant crops made the transition to no-till easier as grass weeds are easily controlled. However, Federico had a word of caution: One one of the farms he manages, he has found over 100 roundup-resistant weeds. It is only in a small part of one farm, so is a minor problem - at the moment - but shows the potential risks of continuous GM cropping and hence continuous use of Roundup.

Federico's direct precision drill, used for planting maize and soya at 52cm spaced rows

Federico took me to see Gustavo Fettamanti in the afternoon. As well as being an agronomist for the local cooperative - whose 100 depots and 15,000 members made it one of the largest in Argentina - Gustavo and his family also raised beef cattle and had a dairy herd along side the obligatory combinable crops.

The 80 dairy cows averaged 20 litres per day with the highest price being achieved for milk destined for cheese production. The liquid milk market commanded a lower price. Cattle on his farm were grazing alfalfa pastures, which stay in the ground for five years before being superceded by soya plus some  wheat and sorghum. When quizzed as to why he continued with cattle when all around had forsaken them, Gustavo replied that it was a tradition that had been in his family for a long time and one that he didn't want to end. He also pointed out that, with his work off-farm he wasn't dependent on the land for his sole source of income so could afford this indulgence.

During my time travelling through the Humid Pampa, I found it quite depressing to see the stands of soya stretching to the horizon. The dearth of livestock and frequent use of glyphosate made for a stark, unattractive land and I was looking forward to moving on to a new area and new mix of enterprises. I wasn't to be disappointed!

A lorry at Federico's farm, laden with soyabean destined for the local cooperative store. Lorries like this are a very common sight in the arable regions of Argentina as few farmers have significant amounts of storage of their own, preferring to use cooperatives instead.Many rural towns seemed to centre around the cooperative stores and the direct and indirect employment they brought in.


  1. Don't tease what happened, fascinating blog

  2. Mark, sorry for the delay - I didn't realise anyone was still reading my blog! The delay was because I had to get to Paraguay, and my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, etc etc. (All the joys of travelling!)