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Rural Reflections: Soybean is the currency of choice

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Farm Forum

Filed from Argentina.

Gracious people of Argentina have opened up their agriculture operations to our S.D. Ag Leadership alumni, sharing their homes, costs of production and concerns for the future. Our guide, Jorge Cazenave was at one time the ag attache for Argentina in Washington, D.C. Through the years he’s worked with many aspects of agriculture, so he has lined up great visits for us and is able to answer a number of questions about the country’s history and political uncertainty.

One of our first visits was to a grain terminal near Rosaria on the Parana River. One of the officials for the Nobel Grain Terminal explained that their location would be like having ships be able to travel up the Missippippi to St. Louis to pick up grain for export. Since there are varying depths in the river, the ships are filled to about 40 to 60 percent, and they are topped off further down the river on their way to the Atlantic Ocean.

At the terminal, they told us that soybeans are in effect the currency. Farmers pay for seed and fertilizer with the grain they produce. The farmers do not trust banks and with the difficulties in the past, Jorge said the banks have to earn the confidence of the people.

Plastic bags have allowed farmers an economical way to keep grain on the farm. It is estimated that there is 10 million tons of grain stored across the country in these plastic silos. Some say farmers view it as, “My safe in the country.” They say the government isn’t happy with that arrangement.

Not much was happening at the port facility as harvest time is in April. Then there will be as many as 750 to 800 trucks a day delivering soybeans, some for export and some for crushing. This is the heart of the soybean growing area.

From what we’ve seen so far in the areas we’ve visited, soybeans truly reign. Field after field of green meets the eye as we travel by motorcoach to our farm visits. Last week, one day it rained 3 inches in one day which was moisture needed in an area that depends on rain about every 2 weeks. Our guide told us that corn suffered, but the beans will wait. And now the plants have responded to the moisture. We did see several corn fields that were beyond help. No-till practices are used extensively across the country to conserve the soil. Many areas get 40 inches of rain.

With little gravel in the area, farm roads become a mass of mud, especially with an unwieldy bus. Main roads are mostly in good shape as it’s important to get the grain to the ports to be shipped. Rail traffic is limited.

When we buy a post card or item to bring home, the price is in pesos. Jorge, our guide, explained problems associated with inflation in the country. When we entered Argentina, the exchange rate for pesos to dollars was 6.4 to $1 U.S. In the time we’ve been here, the exchange rate is now closer to 6.6 pesos to $1 U.S. And then there is a blue market that offers an exchange rate of 10 or 11. Shop owners are eager to be paid in U.S. dollars as U.S. currency holds their value. Jorge told us, “We deal with inflation, as Argentinians don’t know how to live without inflation.” It’s been a costly struggle for the people of the country. This is a huge problem for poorer people as they get the same amount of money each month, but their money buys fewer liters of milk or less pounds of meat.

We have much, much more to share. I’ve posted some photos to the Farm Forum Facebook page, and you can check out www.sdarl.blogspot.com to learn more. I’ll be writing stories in more detail once we’re done with the tour.

Tonight we gathered outside and quickly learned to identify the Southern Cross and the Three Sisters in the sky. As we are on the other side of the world, those back home are never far from our thoughts.