28 March 2010

CREA - The Group Meeting II

The group CREA General Baldissera had their meeting this past week. The president of the group, Santiago Nobile, invited me to attend the meeting. Santiago was extremely helpful to my family and I when we first arrived, helping me get a cell phone and look for apartments. Santiago also gave a presentation on CREA to the Kentucky producers when they visited.

We met at the farm of Alfonso about one hour from Venado Tuerto, and about 100 km from General Baldissera. The meeting started at 8:24 am (6 minutes early) with the round of news, where each farm reports on the latest. Most of the reports centered on how much of the corn and soybean crop has been harvested and the yields to this point. To sum things up quickly, yields look good (about 200 bu/acre for corn and 60 bu/acre for soybean). Farmers were pleased with the corn and a little disappointed with soybean. Frogeye leafspot (Circospora sojina) was a problem this year and reduced some yields.

Alfonso presented his operation to the group and has some general questions about what his 5-year plan should be with his operation. He would like to expand is acreage and put forward a proposal on how to do it. After Alfonso presented his information, the group broke into two groups and they discussed Alfonso's questions. Again, Alfonso, his family and the advisor, Juan Pablo, can not participate in this part of the meeting.

When the groups were completed with their ideas, they presented their information to Alfonso, starting at about 12:20. Again, here is where I wish I could speak or at least understand Spanish. Looking at facial expressions and general body language, I could tell when a comment was favorable or complimentary to the operation and when a comment was critical. This reminded me that none of us like to hear criticism. But, these farmers know that it is precisely that criticism that will help them improve their operations. The comments to Alfonso were complete by about 1:00 pm. So, this response by the groups is not very long, but the information is very useful.

Interestingly, the discussion drifted from responses to Alfonso to a bunch of small discussions between two or three producers. These meetings get everyone to think, both about Alfonso's operation and their own. Lunch was served at 2 pm and the conversation stopped almost immediately. Lunch was chorizo (a sausage), followed by salad, steak, ice cream bars and coffee. I really like Argentine lunches. These folks know how to feed somebody.

On a side note: two of the producers in this group knew Dr. Grant Thomas at the University of Kentucky. They visited Kentucky in 1996 or 1997 and remembered when Dr. Thomas was in Argentina. I have met many farmers in this area of Argentina that knew Dr. Thomas. Again, they credit Kentucky for teaching them how to do no-till or "siembra directa".

Santiago (bottom right) reports on his group's response to Alfonso's (middle left) questions.
More feedback to Alfonso.

CREA - Research Plots on Corn

I was able to visit two different CREA research projects during the past couple weeks, one investigating fertilizer effects on soils and crops, and the second investigating fungicide effect on corn yield. The first visit was with Miguel Boxler, the research coordinator for Sur de Santa Fe and Fernando Garcia with International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), and Ricardo Pozzi, a CREA advisor and the coordinator of this project. This project was coordinated across the Sur de Santa Fe Region.

Dr. Garcia and IPNI were interested in the long term effects of fertilizer on soils and crop yields. They needed competent producers to carry out the long term project. They turned to CREA Sur de Santa Fe. They also needed a sponsor for the project. ASP (similar to CPS in the States) volunteered and provides all of the fertilizer for the tests.

Dr. Garcia informed me that they are in the tenth year of the project and they have six farms remaining. Each farm has fertilizer treatments involving nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur, all compared with no fertilizer. Each farm has three replications of the treatments. Everything is performed with farm-scale equipment and the plots are very large. The farms then operate one of two rotations: corn - wheat - double crop soybeans or full season soybeans - corn - wheat - double crop soybeans.

Over this time, students at universities have conducted research projects. CREA, IPNI and ASP all are interested in as much data as possible. They welcome university researchers. Some of the measurements on the soils include soil stability, velocity of infiltration, young carbon, bulk density, soil P fractions and soil microbiological properties. All of these measurements are compared across the contrasting fertilizer treatments.

After we looked at two different fields, Dr. Garcia, Jorge Minteguiaga (regional coordinator for CREA), and Ricardo Pozzi discussed the direction of the research plots over lunch. After 10 years of data, they were asking each other if new treatments, changes to current treatments or other factors should be included. Personally, I would love to have six farms with replicated plots for ten years. Ricardo told me that the soils in this area are about 70% silt, 25% clay and 5% sand. I would love to have that soil as well!

Miguel told me that he is managing 70 research plots for CREA Sur de Santa Fe, including hybrids, fertilizers, etc. All of the plots are conducted with farm-scale equipment and use large field plots. In addition to these research plots, many of the CREA groups conduct research plots as well. About 270 sites of research are being conducted this year across Sur de Santa Fe (70 of those are organized by the region, the remainder are organized by individual groups or farms).

The second visit was with Maximo Uranga, producer, and Juan Pablo Ioele, advisor, of CREA Posta Espinollos. This CREA group had put together a fungicide protocol on corn. The treatments included six hybrids, all planted in long strips. Fungicide (Opera) was applied at about V14 or at R1 (tassel/silking) in two separate treatments. Each farm has only one replication, but six different farms serve as the replications.

In addition to these treatments, Maximo included some nitrogen fertilizer rates and plant density rates. If I understood correctly, these treatments were solely on Maximo's farm and he had three replications of these treatments.

While Maximo collected grain samples from the harvester, Juan Pablo and I checked stalks for disease. I wasn't keeping track of the treatments, but it appeared that stalk diseases were a function of hybrid and less affected by fungicide. Fungicide timing did increase grain moisture content (the no fungicide treatment was the lowest grain moisture and R1 treatment was the highest grain moisture concentration). Grain yields appeared to be sporadic and not influenced by fungicide treatment. Again, this is only one site and I was looking at the preliminary data.

What I have witnessed is some really good research being conducted on large-scale plots with a coordinated effort. They have the same challenges as we do, such as getting some treatments to work well with equipment limitations. But, to have this many farms with research plots and for these farmers to be sharing their research with each other is extremely helpful to all producers. In addition, I was told that CREA will share their research results with non-CREA producers. They have the opinion that they want more farmers to join CREA and the research plots are a good advertisement for that.

A spot in the field with a "triple", three plants very close to each other. I've noticed a lot of doubles and triples in many of the fields. Planter accuracy is a problem here, but seed costs are much less. Since contractors get paid by the hectare, there is pressure on them to plant each hectare as fast as possible. That probably leads to more doubles and triples.

Dr. Fernando Garcia with IPNI (middle), Miguel Boxler, research coordinator for CREA Sur de Santa Fe (far left) and Ricardo Pozzi, CREA advisor, (between Miguel and Fernando) examine corn in the fertilizer trials.

Maximo is talking with the contractor about how to harvest the plots.

A couple of Maximo's children are enjoying riding in the combine.

Checking stalks for diseases. We saw some anthracnose and a little fusarium.

The weigh wagon is equipped with scales, allowing the contractor to record the weight of each plot.

27 March 2010

CREA - Mendoza Wine Country

My family and I were able to visit western Argentina, Mendoza Province in mid-March. CREA Regional Valles Cordilleranos is a regional group of producers who grow grapes and/or olives. Most of the grapes are for wine. The vocale of the region is Alejandro Toso, a producer who has a vineyard just south of the city of Mendoza.

-- Just as a quick reminder, producers make up CREA groups. The groups make up regions. Each group has a president that serves for two years. The presidents of a region elect a "vocal" to represent the region.--

Alejandro encouraged us to visit several places in Mendoza Province, including Bodegas Salentein, a winery in Alejandro's CREA group. Bodegas Salentein has a wine cellar, a restaurant and museum and a church all on the same farm. This place looked like it was designed to have visitors and tours, just like the tour we attended. The cost for adults to tour the vineyard and cellar was 20 pesos (about $5.30 US Dollars). The drive from central Mendoza city took about an hour, maybe a little more. But, the vineyards and view of the mountains was worth it.

We took one day to visit Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. No grapes, but a fantastic view. Vineyards closer to the mountains are at higher elevations and produce grapes that get higher prices for wine. If I understand correctly, the higher elevations bring cooler night temperatures and that helps with color and acidity.

We visited Alejandro's farm, Vinas de Barrancas, which is about 30 to 40 minutes south of central Mendoza city. Alejandro has 100 hectares of grapes. He grows five varieties of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignion Blanc. He sells grapes to five different wineries.

In addition to growing grapes, Alejandro offers lunches and the freedom to walk through his finca (farm). Reservations are required. But, after lunch, you walk under the shade of trees through much of his farm and walk to a high point to get a really good view of the valley. So, if you are in the Mendoza area, take the time to visit Vinas de Barrancas, enjoy a great lunch and learn a little about the wine industry as well.

Grape harvest was in full swing and Alejandro took us to one of his neighbors to see the harvest. Grape harvest is mostly done by hand, even though machinery harvesters are available. Many of the wineries prefer to have hand-harvested grapes as part of the tradition.

The CREA group to which Alejandro belongs is CREA Los Barrancas. There are 16 members of CREA Los Barrancas. Three of the members only grow grapes and sell those grapes to wineries. The remaining 13 have both vineyards and wineries. The general meeting schedule for this group is to meet at 9 am and start by the host producer presenting the operation. Things discussed include the winemaking process, grapes and growing grapes. In addition, if the host producer has a winery, then wine tasting occurs and the members of the group provide feedback on how the wine should be priced and marketed. Lunch occurs by 2 pm and the official meeting is over. After lunch, the group members may stay and talk until as late as 6 pm. While the schedule is a little different from CREA groups in southern Santa Fe, the purpose of the meeting is the same, one producer presents his operation and some questions. The other members do their best to provide suggestions, criticism and guidance.

There are ten CREA groups that make up the Region Valles Cordilleranos of CREA. Most of the groups produce grapes. Five of the groups are based in Mendoza. One CREA group in the region is made of producers who grow table grapes. Two groups are for producers of olives.

A side note: almost every farm I visit, the farmer asks me for areas where he can improve. Normally, the farmer gets agitated if I do not provide at least one suggestion. They want me to be critical. They want to see an area that they are missing.

So, while the crops are different, the concept of CREA in the Mendoza area is similar to CREA in southern Santa Fe.

Vines at Bodega Salentein.

Wine cellar of Bodega Salentein.

Barrels of wine aging at the cellar of Bodega Valentein.

Bottles of wine aging at Bodega Salentein.

The restaurant and museum at Bodega Salentein.

Anconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

Alejandro Toso and myself at his farm.

Field of malbec grapes at Vinas de Barrancas.

Vinas de Barrancas.

Harvesting grapes at Finca del Inca, a farm near Alejandro's.

Taking boxes of grapes to the truck. Each worker is paid for each box of grapes harvested.

Box of harvested grapes at Finca del Inca.

Grapes at Finca del Inca.

09 March 2010

AgroExpo: The Work Behind the Scenes

The ExpoAgro is a big event every year and seed companies put a lot of effort into showing their hybrids and varieties. One private research, Martin Johnstone, owner of Durantia, contracts for three of these plots at ExpoAgro.

Each of the companies tries to develop artistic layouts of the crops. To accomplish the layout, each plant is seeded by hand. In some cases, two or three seeds are placed in each spot and then thinned back to one plot. (I plan to bring this up when my crew complains about any type of plot work we do.)

Irrigation is used to prevent any lack of water. Since these are small areas of crops, animals and insects can be especially harsh on the crops. Electric fences, nets, and insecticides are all used to keep damage to a minimum.Weeds are controlled with herbicides and hand-hoeing (again, I will use this with my crew). These plots are as much a work of art as anything. Martin and his crew works very hard to keep all things in an artistic condition when the ExpoAgro comes.

Timing the plantings such that corn has dented kernels, sunflowers have beautiful yellow flowers and sorghum heads have dark seeds takes some effort.

Martin had one person stay with each plot from planting through the ExpoAgro. Each person's sole responsibility was to get the plot ready for show. The crew lived in campers for about 3 months.

The final result was a thing of beauty. The plots looked excellent. Again, they were more like art than fields.

Pioneer before.

Pioneer before.

Pioneer before.

Pioneer before.

Irrigation piping. Neither lack of water, nor insects, nor weeds or diseases could be allowed to make these crops look bad.

Advanta before.

Advanta before.

Advanta before.

Advanta before.

Pioneer after.

Pioneer after.

Pioneer after.

Pioneer after.

Arvales after.

Arvales after.

Arvales after.

Advanta after.

Advanta after.

Advanta after.

ExpoAgro 2010

Each year, the ExpoAgro brings in the major companies and industries of agriculture at one location and has booths, plots and equipment demonstrations (similar to Farm Science Review, Farm Progress, or Husker Harvest Days). Below are just some images from the event. Some include a brief explanation.

Most of the companies put a great deal of effort into their demonstration. I met a researcher that developed some of these plots. I will do a separate post on those efforts. Interestingly, a few companies were absent... Monsanto and Syngenta (or at least I did not see their demonstrations). Both sell seed in Argentina.



Nidera, an Argentina Company that develops corn, soybean and sunflower cultivars.

Arvales, a new seed company owned by DuPont

Advanta, sells sorghum, sunflower, corn and soybean seeds.

Don Mario, an Argentina seed company. Primarily sells soybeans.

Macro. A bank.

Pirelli ag tires.


Planter demonstration.

John Deere, with central commodity system. Most seed is still sold in small bags.

ERCA, an Argentine planter.