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Grain Farming without Subsidies, Sabbatical to Argentina
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences
The United States is under increasing pressure by the World Trade Organization to reduce and/or remove subsidies. Subsidy grain farming in the U.S. has been a way of life for several generations. Nearly every aspect in the U.S. grain farming operation is affected by subsidies. Likewise, if subsidies were reduced or eliminated, nearly every aspect of grain farming would be impacted.
Argentina has no subsidies for grain farmers and little government support for other areas such as research and extension. Because of these factors, Argentine grain farm management is quite different from the U.S. There are some very interesting portions of the Argentine agriculture system that could serve as good examples for U.S. farmers if subsidies here were ever reduced. Small and medium-sized farms in the U.S. are often operated by new and young farmers. These new and younger farmers are just beginning their careers and would be the ones most affected if U.S. subsidies were reduced.
The purpose of this sabbatical is to learn more about the non-subsidy grain farming system of Argentina and determine if portions of that system would be useful to small and medium-sized farms, especially new and younger farmers, in the United States.
2010 Project Description
A sabbatical to Argentina was completed from January through May, 2010 to study producer-directed peer groups, known as CREA, conducting applied research and some extension or outreach. Two additional months of sabbatical were completed in Kentucky to meet with producers, county agents and others that would have an interest in these types of groups.
Some of the goals of the sabbatical were to: 1. Determine what aspects of the Argentine CREA model might apply to Kentucky. 2. Determine what research areas in Argentina might be applicable to Kentucky (we currently have some research projects based on Argentine ideas).
This was a sabbatical experience, one where I was supposed to learn new things and new ideas and determine which of those I can apply to my program in Kentucky. Small farmers and, especially, new farmers in the United States could benefit greatly from being in a peer-group structure similar to some components of the CREA model in Argentina. Grain farming in Argentina is very risky compared to the United States. Argentina has zero subsidies, high taxes and frequent strikes from truckers, port workers, etc.
The high risk of agriculture in Argentina demands farms to be much larger (5,000 to 10,000-hectares in one farm was common). Farms diversify by expanding in different regions of Argentina and farms cannot risk the capital investments of on-farm storage or machinery. The Argentine producer must be global manager of the operation. Small farmers in Argentina are subsistence farmers. As subsidies decrease in the United States, I expect more U.S. farm operations will follow the same trends as Argentina.
The CREA peer groups were extremely open and transparent. Members of the group discussed agronomics, economics, business models, labor management, etc. That level of trust and transparency will take years to develop here in the U.S. We need to build trust, first, if this idea will ever work in the U.S. The producers in CREA have developed a very efficient and effective applied research program. They have some limitations on what they can study since they use large scale equipment for all research, but they do a great job on what they can do. They partner with universities when appropriate. The applied on-farm research was essential to the CREA groups in Sur de Santa Fe.
I plan to implement some research ideas on row spacing in Argentina into my research the next season. I received a grant from our Kentucky Corn Promotion Council to fund a graduate student. Some Argentine producers who own land in Illinois have asked me to help facilitate a peer group in the U.S. The peer group will include producers from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. The name of the group is M.A.I.N. (Midwest Agriculture Innovators Network). After helping facilitate the start of this group, I hope to encourage the development of similar groups in Kentucky through our Cooperative Extension Service. Several county extension agents have dairy producers in their counties interested in these groups. Perhaps we can get one or two of these groups started in the next year.