Biotechnology key to production growth in Argentina
Most of the time what I write about on these pages have to do with food and farming in Canada.
This is the second in a series of articles about agriculture in Argentina – a key global competitor for Canada’s farming sector.
Public perceptions and consumer attitudes can make some Canadian farmers think twice about if or how they use popular production tools like pesticides or biotechnology.
Not so in Argentina. The Argentinians are unabashed supporters of modern tools and technology to increase yields and boost productivity – it’s better than the alternative, they say, which would be to find new land to bring into crop production.
“Biotechnology in Argentina is not questioned, it is lived as it benefits all of society,” Gustavo Idigoras, former Argentinian ambassador to the European Union told delegates at the recent International Federation of Agriculture Journalists congress in Argentina. “Adoption of technology is a reality here. We are for it and we will continue to be for it.”
Countries that cannot or will not use biotechnology will be left behind, he added, singling out European nations as being old-fashioned in their thinking on the issue and in danger of losing their grain and oilseed production in the future.
Argentina ranks third in the world behind the United States and Brazil when it comes to adoption of biotechnology. Twenty-eight traits for corn, five for soybeans and five for wheat are currently approved for use in the country.
Many agricultural experts who spoke at the congress attributed Argentina’s status as a global agricultural leader to the adoption of biotechnology. And it will be needed to meet future global demand for grains and meat, they said.
According to Idigoras, changing population dynamics in Latin America, Asia and Africa will mean an increase of 200 million tons in world demand for meat and 1000 million tons of grain by 2050.
Production on existing farm land can be increased by up to 90 per cent through yield improvement and intensification and management, he claimed. This is preferable to clearing new land, which has been very controversial in other countries like Brazil.
Well-known Argentinian no-till guru Victor Trucco stated that the biggest threat to the environment and soil health comes not from pesticide use or biotechnology but rather from the humble plow.
That thinking is part of the driving force behind the widespread adoption of no-till techniques in a country where more than 60 per cent of the total seeded area is devoted to soybean production.
No-till, said Trucco, vastly reduces the amount of time and resources farmers have to invest into land and is one of the main reasons, next to biotech, that average yields for Argentina’s main crops – soybeans, corn and wheat – have doubled in the last two decades.
And although societal, food safety and environmental issues are considered important, they are trumped by economics, Idigoras said.
“In Argentina, agriculture is seen as a business. We can’t ask farmers to do social, environmental and other things if they aren’t profitable,” he stated. “That doesn’t mean that they don’t care, but in our country, agriculture is a business first and not a social issue.”
Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture, Lorenzo Basso, told delegates that while the country currently produces enough to feed 400 million people worldwide – its own population is about one tenth of that – it’s their goal to increase that to 600 million by 2030.
The country is already the world’s leading exporter of soy, pears, lemons, lemon juice, honey, soybean meal and biodiesel.
This article was originally published in the Ontario Farmer, September 17, 2013.