Visitors Share Glimpse into Farming Below Border

Argentine farmers face similar, yet different challenges.

Published on: Sep 6, 2006

Rolo Boehler looks to be in his late 20's or early 30's. Here he would likely be called a farmer, although his job description also fits that of a consulting agronomist. In his home country of Argentina, he considers himself more of a farm manager and consultant than a farmer, even though he works for his father.

"That's who signs my paycheck," he quips. While he speaks in broken English, some things translate well in any language.

What's most different in central Argentina where Boehler and the seven other "farmers" who joined him here on a recent tour is that farms are much larger, even than most "large" family farms here. But yet their farm equipment is much smaller, and they employ many more employees per farm.

Juan Gaona, one of the farmers who helped organize the trip for the group, explains that labor is much cheaper there. In fact after doing comparisons with the help of Purdue University ag economists, they discovered their labor cost is about half what American farmers face.

Equipment barrier

Given the chance to check out big equipment on Jake Frederick's farm near Crawfordsville, they crawled all over it, like boys in a toy store. They also snapped lots of pictures. His 24-row planter, huge grain carts and big combine aren't things they see often. Instead they rely on much smaller equipment to handle many more acres, all because labor is so cheap and readily available.

So is Boehler a farmer? "We don't drive the tractors," he explains. "Our helpers do that. I'm more likely to be the one who calibrates the equipment, and who gives them the job to do for the day."

While they farm more acres, yields there are generally somewhat less than here, especially for corn, Gaona notes. But cash rents aren't as high either. So with lower labor and cash rent costs, they're able to make profits. One of their concerns, though, is that most of the land there is rented year-to-year. That makes it difficult to invest in long-term projects, such as soil conservation measures. Instead it fosters making what you can year-by-year.

Technology comparison

Just because they don't have large equipment doesn't mean they're behind on technology. Most of them no-till, and they understood what their host, Frederick, was talking about when he discussed RTK and auto-guidance, even though most of them relied on getting it second-hand through a translator.

Perhaps one of the most striking moments was when Rolo and one of his fellow travelers approached Tony Vyn, Purdue University tillage systems specialist along on the tour at Fredericks. Each carried a weed leaf in their hand. Neither knew what it was.

Rolo held out a fresh velvetleaf leaflet. "It's velevetleaf," Vyn replied, to blank stares. Mentioning the other slang name, buttonweed, only muddied the waters. What did Rolo want to know? The common scientific name! None of the Americans standing around could help him.

His friend held out what turned to be cocklebur. Why were they so interested in knowing about these weeds? "Are they resistant to glyphosate," Rolo asked excitedly, in broken English, yes, but clear enough to get his drift. "We've seen lots of these two weeds as we've traveled. Are they now resistant?"

Vyn assured them that wasn't the case, then explained how timing of applications, weather conditions and other factors can impact how well glyphosate knocks down certain weeds.

But the take-home message was clear in any language. No matter where you farm, glyphosate is an important chemical. And concern about resistance is not only important, but crucial on farmer's minds everywhere. Obviously no one, no matter what language they speak, wants to lose a weed control weapon as powerful as glyphosate.