Farmer Focus: Jim Alston March column

I have just returned from a tour of the Buenos Aires region of Argentina, which was an education in how the area’s agriculture is responding to the environment it must work in. Not much of that response was what I expected.

First, jall exports of primary product, that is unprocessed grains and beef, are subject to a government tax of 34%. In the case of beef this is primarily down to controlling inflation which is officially running at 10%.

The Argentinians eat 75kg a head of beef a year and it really is cheaper than chicken.

Huge swathes of pasture in the region we looked at have been cultivated for producing soya, maize and cereals as these crops can produce a very healthy profit even with such an onerous export tax – beef cannot.

All crops are direct-drilled with virtually all the soya being GM Roundup-resistant and most of the maize GM corn borer-resistant (BT). Some maize, known as “stacked GM” has both genes.

The cattle, which are based mainly on Angus and Hereford breeds, are moving north to areas reclaimed from natural vegetation where the first crop is ryegrass. As this flat and fertile region was not so long ago producing beef the farms are large. The average size is 200ha (495 acres) but many run into the thousands.

Water for irrigation is free, farm costs are a third of ours except for fertiliser – and there lies a problem.

The fertility left from the grass is being used up fast, and to maintain that fertility requires phosphate and potash, both of which cost the same as here.

A problem for us is that a good deal of processed soya finds its way to GM-free Europe, and we witnessed a 45,000t boat of malting barley (not GM) being loaded for Germany.

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