This may seem like a weird question taking into account that Argentina is still one of the biggest meat producers worldwide with a per capita consumption of ca 60 Kilograms a year.
But there have been some heavy shifts in the system recently. Firstly, as I mentioned in the last post, the high export taxes of 15% have reduced the output of the sector. While a few years ago Argentina was third in beef exports worldwide, nowadays they are only 11th, overtaken by relatively small competitors like Paraguay and Uruguay, where a number of Argentinian investors have started to produce meat abroad because the tarif conditions are much better than at home.
Secondly, meat production has lost a lot of its traditional methods. So far, when I was thinking, sometimes even dreaming of a good piece of Argentinian beef, there was an imaginary movie starting to run in the inner cinema: happy cows migrating through the Pampa and eating grass for all their lives before they would be killed on the spot and grilled in a traditional Asado.
Not that these Gaucho-traditions don’t exist anymore. During the livestock tour at the Congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (Ifaj) we were shown beautiful herds of Hereford and Angus cattle in lush green fields and we were treated with a traditional Asado (a whole cow including hooves, teeth and skin). Later we were presented an “Azote”, a rivercrossing of cows, horses and gauchos, all of them swimming.
That was quite impressive but in fact, this show is not represantative for the sector anymore. Because of the vast expansion of the profitable soy production (from 5 m to 20 m hectares in the last 20 years) the space for cattle in the fertile Pampa Humeda has become scarce. The sector reacted in two ways: migration and concentration. Either the cattle business was looking for new grounds (eg. in the western Pampa Seca or in the northern Chaco, both of them very dry regions where you need much more space to nourish the same number of head).
Or they started investing in feedlots, a totally new phenomenon for Argentina. I visited two feedlots, one of them with 3000 head on 10 hectares, the other one with 22000 head on 40 hectares. These are US-inspired industrial operations that lack any kind of Gaucho romanticism. As I heard, more than half of Argentina’s beef is finished in feedlots, with an increase ahead, because cash-cropping keeps growing.
The heifers and steers are brought to the lots after roughly 8 months of grassfeeding and will spend something between 3 and 5 months in the lot before they get slaughtered. For starters, the diet is changed from grass to corn, soymeal and silage within a week, combined with a good dose of antibiotics to prevent the spreading of illnesses in the packed corrals. The whole area of the feeding lot is covered by an ugly smell, that further reduced my belief in the pure Argentinian Pampa beef.
Somehow I can understand why they didn’t show us a feedlot on Tuesdays livestocktour… (Thx a lot to Neroli Roocke from Australia for the help with editing my pidgin english:)
PS. If you like to read more english posts check out “Adi’s English Posts”.