For the last six years Rodale Institute and OIA, a certifying body for organic agriculture in Argentina, have been participating in an exchange program. With high-hopes to share research, agricultural practices, farming experiences, and more importantly, build new relationships between the two countries, the continuing support organic farmers give each other, can promote organic agriculture on a global level.
Earlier this summer a group of 11 Argentinian delegates including Penn State University, Lakeview Organic Grains, and several local farms travelled to Northeast U.S. to visit Rodale Institute. Rick Carr, Rodale Institute Compost Production Specialist and four researchers from North Carolina State University, Drs. Tomas Moreno, Bill Foote, Rachel Vann, and Matthew Vann, travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The American delegates spent a week visiting several different agricultural facilities in Buenos Aires Province.
On their first day in Argentina, the American delegates had a meeting with David Mergen, Agricultural Counselor for Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and María Balbi, Agricultural specialist at the U.S. Embassy. “There was a peculiar feeling when entering the Embassy,” says Carr. “You knew you were about to step on American soil but couldn’t get over the heightened security and bullet proof glass surrounding the building.”
American delegates quickly learned what role Mr. Mergen had in representing the USDA in Argentina and organic agriculture. Mr. Mergen is responsible for facilitating importation and exportation of organic agricultural products and works towards equivalency among countries. In other words, he negotiates trades with equal standards.
Later in the day, the group visited Tallo Verde, an organic vegetable producer and online distributor of fresh produce to the Buenos Aires region. The farm has about 135 acres under productions with several greenhouses and field plots.
The company was open for business in 2002, holding a mission to produce organic vegetables and fruits using ecological methods. With respect for the highest standards of quality, diversity of products that provide a balanced diet and the promotion of care for the environment, the company held true.
When the company began the internet was still gaining momentum and staff relied on the call center to handle about 80% of orders and distribution. Now, online sales account for nearly 95% of their orders. Employing about 40 workers from nearby town, the farm produces a variety of vegetables including tomatoes, carrots, radishes, chard, arugula, and salad greens.
The owner explains that technology has been a large investment for the company, but it has paid off. With new technology, they have been able to decrease manual labor in some areas and expand into new products such as processing fruits into marmalades.
Packing and distribution facility | Greenhouse production at Tallo Verde
The following day the American delegates visited Petroagro, West of Buenos Aires. Petroagro owns and operates several farms in the Pampas region of Argentina, similar to the U.S. corn belt. They produce corn and soybean, bulk of which are exported to the U.S. Their farming systems vary, thought all organic, some incorporate beef cattle in their crop rotation. Juan Manueal, manager of production, led the delegates on a tour into the fields of San Carolos Farm where they were able to examine the soil conditions and farming equipment.
Petroagro. (From left to right) Ellermo Napoli, Matthew Vann, Rachel Vann, Tomas Moreno, Pedro Landa, Bill Foote, Juan Manueal, Pablo Carpriotti, Rick Carr, and Walter Mateo | Bill Foote in the field at San Carolos Farm, one of Petroagro’s integrated crop-livestock production farms
Tomas Moreno examines the soil at San Carlos Farm | The group examines the equipment used on San Carlos Farm
The delegates were treated to a first-rate Argentine asado (barbeque) for lunch at Tres Sargentos. Owner of Petroagro and Tres Sargentos, Roberto Coronel, was there to welcome the delegates to his facilities. After filling themselves with food, the group slumbered through the oil extraction plant and cattle feedlot at Tres Sargentos.
Soybean and sunflower oil are extracted at the plant and nearly 100% of the product is exported. The byproduct from extraction is sold locally and used as an ingredient in animal feed.
The day ended with a visit to a cattle feedlot. Steers are brought to the facility and remain there for about four months until they are sold for meat.
Asado at Tres Sargentos | Oil extraction plant at Tres Sargentos
Inside the extraction plant, Marcus Coronel describes the extraction process | Pablo Capriotti, Rachel Vann and Juan Manuel stand outside the cattle feedlot at Tres Sargentos
Test fields examining the benefits of mixings different cover crops
The next day, the American delegates attended the annual PROD Jornadas de Producción Responsible y Diferenciada Conference. Rachel Vann delivered a presentation on the control of weeds in organic grain production throughout North Carolina. Her presentation provided great detail on the work that North Carolina has contributed in organic agriculture.Ms. Vann, along with Rick Carr, and Drs. Mario Clozza and Oscar Arellano participated in a panel discussion on the topic or producer and the university together in the search for production solutions.
The American delegates met with reserachers from INTA Castelar, Institute of Soils later in the week. INTA, Argentina’s national research institute is similar to USDA in the U.S. The director of the Institute or Soils, Juan Migueal, provided an overview of research projects and then let his staff present their understanding of how soil conditions (healthy or not) contribute to agricultural productions Their recent focus on cover crops in agriculture allowed for the delegates to visit their test plots despite the previous weather conditions throughout the day.
After their meetings at INTA, the group visited Santa maria del Pueblo Nuevo dairy farm. The family-owned farm milks about 120 Holstein and Jersy cows that are pasture-raised. Juan Garguilo, a representative of Serenisima, provided a tour of the facility. A vast majority of milk produced in Argentina is processed by three companies with Serenisima beging the largest of them all.
Juan Gargiulo, representative for Serenisima, describes the dairy operation
On the last day of travel, the delegates visited Campos de Gia Links, a 2,965-acre Japanese-owned farm that produces canola for oil to be sold in Argentina. A variety of seeds are exported to Japan for use as sprouts.
The farm is relatively new, bought 10 years ago. It started with plums and has since removed all of them due to poor production. René Ducret, the farm manager, provided an overview of his farming practices and obstacles. There are certain tecniques that are traditional in Argentina. Japanese owners have established certain policies that prevent Mr. Ducret from utilizing them. For example, there are no animals at any of the farms and the use of manures is prohibited, despite having an adjacent cattle farm. They were the first to plant non-GMO soy in the area and then transitioned to organic. Lately, Mr. Ducret has been trying to use a variety of cover crops for nutrient management and improve soil fertility.
René Ducret and the American delegate’s visit a Japanese-owned grain and seed producer
Later in the afternoon, the delegates took a tour of Special Grains, a grain producer, processor and exporter. Production is done in the humid Pampas region of Argentina in rented fields and in agreement with farmers. Quality control and traceability is at the forefront of their operation.
Special Grains maintains quality control and high purity seed with the use of extensive digital, photo, and video documentation. Each truck load entering the grain silo facility is placed under a PASS or NO PASS test using ELISA testing. Following entry and storage, Special Grains ensures additional quality by sending samples for PCR to commercial labs.
Their facility is 100% GMO-free and their entire product is exported, mostly to the U.S. The grains they produce are sunflower, corn, soybean, canola and wheat. They have begun trials using oat as a cover crop.
The day concluded with a visit to an art/history museum and chocolate factory in San Antonio de Areco. Senor Osvaldo Gasparini provided a very interesting description of the Pampas region and San Antonio de Areco in art. After the museum, the group ended the day, and the entire Argentina trip, with a tasty chocolate treat at a local chocolate factory. The next day the
Americans headed home, taking with them memories of Argentina, hospitality, generosity, a new perspective on organic agriculture, and hopes to build on the relationships they had established over the last week.
Next summer another group of Argentinian delegates will be visiting Rodale Institute and several other farms and agricultural institutions in the Northeast U.S. and possibly NC State University as well. About eight months from now Rodale Institute will be sending an American group down to Argentina to gain a similar experience as the one described previously.
For those interested in participating in the exchange program, Rodale Institute encourages you to contact the Institute for more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.