Saturday, 07 September 2013 14:31

Rush hour, BA style

Back in Buenos Aires after four days in Rosario for the 2013 congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.

They say in Buenos Aires rush hour lasts all day.

They're not joking.

Published in Nathan's Blog
Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:29

Soybean kings

Despite its political and economic struggles, Argentina remains an agricultural powerhouse. With a population of just 40 million, Argentina produces enough food to feed 450 million people.

While beef has long been the country’s agricultural raison d’être, soybeans are now king. In the past twenty years soybean production has grown from five to 20 million hectares in Argentina, with the country now supplying 43 per cent of the global soybean oil and soybean meal trade.

The country’s efforts to expand the soybean industry have focused on value adding to create competitive advantages over other major soybean producing nations such as Brazil. In the past decade alone Argentina has invested USD2.5 billion in soybean processing facilities creating an annual crushing capacity of 48 million tonnes.

Another competitive advantage the Argentines have is the location of processing facilities close to growing areas. The average distance between farms and soybean processing facilities in Argentina is 500 kilometers, compared to close to 1,500 kilometers in Brazil.

The industry is clustered along the Parana River with major crushing and export facilities located in the city of Rosario, 300 kilometres north west of Buenos Aires.

Argentinean soybean meal is used as a high-protein stockfeed, while the oil is used to produce bio diesel. Most of the bio fuel produced is exported to Europe where environmental policies have created huge demand for non-fossil fuels.

Development of new growing technologies and a massive move to no-till cropping – 70 per cent of the country’s annual soybean production of 50 million tonnes is produced using no-till practices – has seen soybean yields double in the past two decades.

Almost 100 per cent of the Argentinean soybean crop is genetically modified.

Given the industry’s colossal scale and importance to the Argentinean economy, it’s no surprise soybean production has been the key topic throughout the past four days of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists 2013 congress.

Photo: grain silos dot the landscape around Rosario in the Argentinean province of Santa Fe where soybean production is clustered along the Parana River.

Published in Nathan's Blog
Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:23

Millionaire farmer

Although the soybean boom has been a lifesaver for the Argentinean economy, the oil seed’s popularity and profitability has driven land prices through the roof.

Visited a farm near Rosario today, in the province of Santa Fe, where land prices have reached USD20,000 per hectare.

Farmer Adrian Criolani (pictured) grows soybeans, barley, wheat and corn on his 1,000 hectare property, San Antonio.

Given that a farm this size is worth USD20 million it is no wonder up to 60 per cent of Argentina’s annual grain harvest of 100 million tonnes is produced on leased land.  

Published in Nathan's Blog
Tuesday, 03 September 2013 03:19

Portrait of a Gaucho 02

Another gaucho portrait.

Published in Nathan's Blog
Tuesday, 03 September 2013 03:02

Portrait of a Gaucho 01

Compared to their American and Australian brothers, cowboys and stockmen, Argentina's gauchos are in the high fashion stakes.

Immaculately dressed in knee-high leather boots, brightly embroided belts, neck ties and colourful berets, the humble gaucho cuts quite an image.

After our four-course barbeque lunch at the San Pedro orange farm La Campina, conference delegates were treated to a display of horsemanship by a group of local gaucho.

These guys not only look good, but they ride like the wind, as well.

Photo: shot this portrait of young gaucho Tobias after he had been bucked off an unbroken horse and kicked in the ribs.

He seemed rather unfazed by it all.

Published in Nathan's Blog
Monday, 02 September 2013 23:43

Throw another cow on the barbee

Given that the country is famous for beef, it's no surprise Argentines are big on barbeques.

The average Argentine consumes 70 kilograms of beef each year.

Stopped off at an orange farm in San Pedro for lunch today and barbeque beef was on the menu.

Unlike in Australia where we might throw a few steaks on a hotplate, the Argentines go all out.

The traditional asado (bbq) involves a wood fire, beef ribs, and in this case four hours of cooking.

The ribs are tied to wire mesh frames which are attached to star pickets driven into the ground at a 45 degree angle.

The method allows the fat to drip into the fire and the beef to cook slowly.

Different wood is used to give different flavours to the meat, such as the orange trees used today.

And nothing goes to waste. Intestines are skewered onto long steel spikes and cooked by the fire, and kidneys are fried on a hotplate.

The asado is an integral part of the culture. For Argentines, the Sunday barbeque is the traditional family gathering.

As one of our guides said: "The time it takes is not only about cooking the meat slowly, it's also about spending time together and sitting around talking while you wait for the meat to cook."

Published in Nathan's Blog
Monday, 02 September 2013 00:47

Buenos dias

Landed in Buenos Aires late last night and jumped in a cab for the city.

The driver couldn't speak English but when I said I was Australian he clasped his hands together as if in prayer – taking both hands from the wheel – and exclaimed, "Thank you Australia, thank you for ACDC."

We then listened to ACDC cranked loud on the stereo as we drove into the city. Highway to Hell was his favourite.

The 2013 congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists kicked off today with close to 200 journalists arriving from across the world.

Most people started the day with a tour of the city, and we've ended it with a cocktail party and welcome speeches.

A few interesting facts about Argentinean agriculture: 

(i) since 1990 the area of soybeans grown has increased from five million hectares to 20 million hectares;

(ii) Argentina is now the largest soybean producer in the world, supplying 43 per cent of the global soybean oil trade; and

(iii) the country has capacity to crush 48 million tonnes of soybeans annually.

Heading to Rosario tomorrow in the Santa Fe Province, 300 kilometres north west of Buenos Aires, one of the key soybean processing regions.

Photo: the setting sun casts a star through the bell tower at Buenos Aires’ La Recoleta Cemetery where Evita Peron is buried.


Published in Nathan's Blog
Saturday, 31 August 2013 08:14

Departure lounge

After five days back in Melbourne I’m on the road again, this time headed for South America.

A few months ago I won the Kubota Australian Star Prize for Rural Writing (excuse the self promotion).

The prize was a trip to the 2013 conference of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It’s my second journey to the ‘Paris of Latin America’ in as many years. I visited last June on assignment for Get Lost magazine.

Waiting to board…

Published in Nathan's Blog