Date of this Version
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development (2010). Proceedings of the 2010 Water for Food Conference. Lincoln.
Rainfed and Irrigated Production in Argentina
Martin Pasman, an Argentine agronomist with a master’s degree in business administration, began his career as a consultant to farmers and has experience in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, where he was instrumental in helping to develop 80,000 hectares in the western part of the Cerrado area. His farming experience stems from his family’s farms, located in five areas of Argentina. Most are rainfed, but one area receives less than 500 millimeters of rain annually. Pasman also runs an irrigation business serving 80 percent of the Argentine market, giving him vast experience in developing irrigated land.
Argentina is the second-largest South American country after Brazil and is one-third the size of the U.S. One-third of Argentina receives more than 800 millimeters of rain and depends upon rainfed agriculture, while the majority receives less than 800 millimeters. Argentina cultivates 30 million hectares per year, of which 2.2 million are irrigated. Total production output is 90 million metric tons, and about 70 percent of farmers in Argentina practice no-till agriculture.
Pasman’s family came to Argentina from the U.S. around 1825, when it was primarily cattle country. His family brought the first Aberdeen Angus bull to Argentina and also helped develop agriculture. In the 1970s, the family farmed 6,000 hectares, of which only 500 were used for crops, yielding 3.5 tons of corn per hectare and 1.5 tons of wheat per hectare. They plowed the land and used few herbicides and no fertilizers. The majority of the land was used to raise 3,000 head of cattle, which were finished in natural pastures.
Today, the family’s farm operation has expanded to 20,000 hectares, 15,000 of them used for agriculture. In the low-productivity land, they also manage 9,000 head of cattle in cow-calf operations, finishing the animals in American style feedlots. In rainfed fields, the Pasmans produce 8 tons of corn per hectare and 3 tons of wheat; under irrigation, they get 12 tons of corn and 6 tons of wheat. The most important crop, however, is soybeans. They also grow potatoes, corn and sunflower seeds for Monsanto Company. The farm uses 42 pivots to irrigate 4,000 hectares, and about 80 percent of the farm is double-cropped: wheat plus soybeans, seed corn plus soybeans, potato plus corn. Argentina uses a huge amount of herbicides and genetically modified crops, Pasman said, adding that his farm was one of the first to produce Roundup Ready® soybean seeds in 1994.
A View from Agricultural Producers
“The cornerstone of our production technology is no-till,” Pasman said, a technique used on the entire farm except the potato fields, which follow a rotation of one year of potatoes followed by three years of no-till. A corn crop follows the potato harvest in the same year.
No-till improves water infiltration and water retention and reduces evaporation because the previous crops’ residue minimizes runoff and allows the soil to retain more water. No-till also reduces erosion risk and increases organic matter, improving oxidation and carbon circulation in the soil. It improves soil fertility, increases productivity and sustainability, and allows farming in difficult soils, particularly shallow soils of 3 inches.
No-till uses less than half the water and less labor compared to conventional tillage, reducing production costs by 30 percent, Pasman concluded. “It is very important, the mix of no tillage with center pivot (irrigation) against traditional management.”