Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Farming next to the big boys

Two days, two farms. The largest first ‘El Descanso’ 12,000 acres - a mere minnow compared to it’s neighbour ‘La Catalina’ a 100,000 acre farm. These land masses all in one lump are so hard to get your head around – ‘’it goes on for 10km in that direction, and 5 in that’’ I won’t even try!

El Descanso has the few (250) suckler cattle that the farm owns. All the land would once have been cattle land, the fund have removed all the fences on the farms – the only signs remaining of the cattle are the massive water tanks and troughs that stand at the corner of four fields. The boundaries are now dictated by soil type and rotations by what crops they can grow on the soil types.

At the main holding we saw a contractor waiting to start soyabean seeding. A 10m drill with only a 220hp tractor on the front – such a low requirement because of both the topography and the extremely shallow depth the machine is working at.

Neither of these farms had irrigation with El Descanso receiving 950mm of rain a year.
The farms don’t have tramlines as they stop running through the crop at any early stage (because of the roundup and few fungicides programme). The contractors use GPS for the early spray and fertiliser applications and the crop can close back over and compensate later. Wheat is the exception –non GM and sprayed later so tram lining may come in here in time.

GM soyabean is the key to the system here. It is a legume – so fixing N. It’s roundup ready – so cleans weeds out. It’s a short growing season – so 3 crops in 2 years. It’ll grow in very poor soil types. In rotation with conventional wheat, and triple stacked GM corn and the possibilities of sunflower, linseed, lucerne… the system –the rotation works. Crops that encourage plenty of soil life and trash return that acts as moisture saving mulch, crops with excellent financial returns (without yields like ours).

Argentina has turned my perspective on GM – a bit. The system the US are using is frightening and extremely unsustainable – here in Argentina it is a well placed tool. If we could just have roundup ready OSR my god life would be different. Just one total cleaning crop, in conjunction with conventional cropping to ‘save’ the soil life.

We have been extremley fortunate during our stay to sample the beef from the farm on both nights. The first cooked for us by their Gaucho on a traditional barbeque and the second with a simple pasta dish which was absolutely to die for - bigger clothes are going to be needed all round! We can't establish what they do to their beef over here but it is by far the best I have ever tasted in the world - accompanied off course by copious amounts of Malbec red wine.

We've learnt so many things over these three days about so many aspects of farming and business I can't begin to list them all. The main themes, people, education and drive. I know this trip will have a huge effect on me and the way I farm / run my business. So about 1400km's later, a ridiculous number of empty bottles, copious mossy bites and three road kill dogs (observed), it's back to Buenos Aires now and reality -firstly in the shape of a youth hostel, secondly in the shape of burger and chips for tea, thirdly in the shape of booking a 20hour bus journey!

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