Carmen is a huge farm – 10,000ha in an area where the average is 200. Not only that, but it is the biggest dairy in Argentina, with over 6,000 cows producing 100,000l of milk every day. It’s a massive operation, and is owned by one of the country’s agricultural behemoths, Adecoagro.
Eddie Nolan is the arable manager, and luckily for me he speaks great English because that’s the only way he could ask his Irish grandmother for sweets. Like everyone else in this country (continent?) they grow a lot of Soya, both on its own and as part of a double crop with wheat. The third part of the rotation is maize, which is either grown for grain, or for silage that is fed to the dairy cows.
As well as normal grain maize, they also grow hybrid seed for Syngenta (more profitable) and popcorn for cinemas et al (more delicious). Most of the maize is GM, and does not need to be sprayed with insecticides. Contrast this with the three sprays that the non-GMO varieties get: “I know which one I would rather eat” says Eddie.
Eddie is mindful of his soils, and so after taking maize silage he tries to grow a cover crop. They have been doing this for about 12 years, which makes them incredibly early adopters in Argentina. The cover crop is usually wheat, but they are just starting to play around with adding vetch as well. I asked why he didn’t grow Avena Strigosa/Black Oats/Bristle Oats/whatever else you want to call them. The answer was that they are so good that the dairy boys sneak in and cut it for silage, so there is no organic matter returned to the soil, which somewhat defeats the purpose.
The soil here is pretty sandy, but it is a very fine textured sand. Like at La Florida, there are high and low areas, called Loma & Bajo. Now I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m going to take a guess that these mean high & low… The soils are very deep; I couldn’t get an exact answer, but it is apparently much deeper than the roots will go. Eddie confirmed what I had heard a few days ago, that maize will root to 2m and wheat/soya to 1m.
Water is a big deal here, and the dairies use 1,000,000 litres (yes, million) per day in total. Almost all of this finds its way into a lagoon, where is waits until it can be used to irrigate the maize being grown for seed. Each pivot irrigator covers 150ha, and can put out about 10,000,000 litres of water in a day, which is 7mm over the entire area. Like I said, it’s a big operation.