Pipeline Foods in Argentina
Earlier this year, Pipeline Foods sent a contingent to Argentina to tour our Buenos Aires office and meet with organic certifiers and farmers to learn more about the potential for growth in the organic industry, both in Argentina and in South America as a whole. We explored the city, and then hopped in a truck and roamed the beautiful countryside of southern Buenos Aires Province, talking to farmers, watching gauchos at work and, of course, sharing an asado or two with our hosts. Read on and watch the video to learn more about our trip and what we discovered along the way!
Current Organic Landscape in Argentina
Argentina is a country with an incredibly rich agricultural history. In 1994, it became the first country in South America to develop an organic program, which has helped to spread organic production to almost every province in the country. Today, there are roughly 3.5 million certified organic hectares (about 8.6 million acres) spread throughout Argentina. Most of the organic land is in the Patagonia region, and dedicated to pasture and fields for bovine and ovine cattle. Of the 300,000 hectares of organic land devoted to agriculture, only around 150,000 hectares are currently being used for row crop production.
What We Learned
After talking with organic farmers and industry experts, we recognized some key themes that everyone seemed to agree on. Below are a few of the lessons we gleaned from our discussions.
Lesson 1: Organic certification is rigorous.
Argentina has always been considered a leader in the region, with a proven system that works. Once a farmer has been certified organic by an accredited SENASA (National Service for Agrifood Health and Quality) agency, they are considered to be European organic as well. Argentina is the only country in the world besides Australia that operates at that level of organic standards.
"We do a proper investigation that consists of sampling, testing, and looking for the root cause of a problem," says Pedro Landa, Director of Organización Internacional Agropecuaria. "And we do mandatory GMO testing for all corn and soybeans. There's no way to cheat the system."
Lesson 2: Farmers face many challenges.
Not surprisingly, farmers in Argentina share similar struggles with the farmers of North America, along with experiencing their own unique set of challenges. Some of these challenges include:
- There is a drop in yields of about 20% compared to conventional
- Equipment is very expensive; not all farmers have the kind of capital necessary to own all of the machinery needed for organic
- Fear of 3-year transition period is an obstacle - fear of how the community will view a farmer once they switch to organic, because everyone else around them is spraying chemicals
- There is a lack of availability of good quality seeds
- Learning about how to facilitate weed control when you can no longer use chemical inputs
- Having the right mindset to be prepared for a control and audit system that an organic production program requires
- From a commercial standpoint, the level of access Argentinian organic producers have to the market is extremely limited when compared to the US
Lesson 3: There's an opportunity.
The farmers we spoke to believe in sustainable production that is profitable at the same time. Diego Fontenla, who gave us an in-depth tour of his farm, has an extension of roughly 3,000 acres. In this extension, there are four families living on and working the land. Because organic production is very diverse, there are many operations to keep track of; poultry production, cows grazing the pastures, and multiple crops being grown, such as cereals and oilseeds. In a conventional model, no one is living on the land because there is no constant monitoring required. Diego thinks that keeping people connected to the land and to the operations of the farm is very important, because it helps to develop the community and grows deep roots in the region.
When we asked about the hurdles they experience in growing their exports, and how they see Pipeline Foods being able to help them develop these markets and grow production in Argentina, farmers answered that for the first time, they see a company that is bringing a different thought process on how to work the organic market, going from the farmer all the way to the end user. We found this to be incredibly promising, and are hopeful that other farmers in the region feel the same way as we strive to develop our organic program and build relationships in the country.
As Pedro Landa puts it, "If you ask what I'm doing this for - I have fun. I have fun. And we need to look for people who are not just looking for business, but enjoy what they are doing."
The trip itself was a unique one that we were glad to be able to make as a team. Hours on the road crammed into a car with each other led to quality time to hash through ideas, digest what we had learned (and the food we ate), and get to know each other better as human beings passionate about sustainable farming practices and bettering the world and the health of the environment for future generations.
We are grateful to have the opportunity to do business in Argentina, a beautiful country of which we only scraped the surface in our time there. It's exciting to think about the growth of organic on a global scale, and the role Pipeline Foods can play in accelerating that growth. We are working hard every day to develop a system in which supply is increasing domestically, with the remainder supplemented by grain imported from other countries through a rigorous, transparent process. The many partnerships we have already entered into, both in Argentina and around the world, are just the start of a growing network of people and organizations who have the same values as us, and want to hold our food system to a higher standard. We are incredibly optimistic for what the future holds.