Post-harvest summit in Argentina

by World Grain Staff
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Following its motto, "Training, Innovation and Effectiveness to Supply the World," the Argentine Grain Post-harvest Association (APOSGRAN) held the ninth edition of JORNATEC, its national technical conference, Aug. 26-27 at the Rosario Stock Exchange in Rosario, Santa Fe province, where the largest soy production complex in the world is located.

New developments in grain storage and handling, the increasing role of Latin America in international grain trade and future expectations were among the topics discussed at the meeting, which featured renowned speakers from all over the world.

Speakers included Juan José Bertero of the Santa Fe Production Ministry; Armando Casalins of the Storage Owners Federation; Dirk Maier, head of the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University; and Luis Schiaffino, transport engineer of the Chilean company SOPRODI. Also attending JORNATEC 2010 were representatives of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS), the North American-based organization that also serves the postharvest grain industry. GEAPS President Rick Krier and Marc "Buzz" Tourangeau, president of GEAPS’ international board, presented a plaque commemorating APOSGRAN’s 25th anniversary to the organization’s president, Argentine Ricardo Biancotti, who was also given a GEAPS jacket.

NEW DRYING TECHNOLOGY

Two of the most prominent organizations in the Argentine agriculture sector — the National Agropecuary Technology Institute Balcarce Research Station (INTA) and the National Service of Agrifoods Health and Quality (SENASA) — were among the featured presenters at JORNATEC.

Ricardo Bartosik, grain handling and storing national project coordinator of INTA, presented a new development for popcorn drying in silos.

"Popcorn is highly sensitive to the drying process and the post-harvest operation can notably affect the grain quality," Bartosik said. Argentina produces between 150,000 and 190,000 tonnes of popcorn a year, of which 95% is exported.

INTA has developed a prototype which is designed to improve the drying process for popcorn. The prototype is being tested in the southern part of the Santa Fe province.

"The goal of this technology is not to dry the grain faster but to protect its quality. In order to accomplish this, we developed an automatic controller that has a mathematic model of drying prediction, which optimizes the drying process according to different climatic conditions," he said.

The equipment controls the temperature in order to combine it in the right way with relative humidity. INTA’s plan is to license this mechanism, whose patent is currently in the registration process. Bartosik also noted that since Argentina has a large area of arable land, the device was tested in a wide range of climates to make sure it would be possible to use this process in different regions around the world.

ARGENTINE EXPORT PICTURE

Juan Carlos Batista, agrifoods quality director of SENASA, discussed the challenges Argentina faces regarding grain exports.

"Entering the international market is becoming more complex due to the struggle among the participating countries and the requisites set by regulatory authorities of the main markets such as the European Union, China and Russia," said Batista.

He also addressed the prospects for the soybean market. "Commerce for this product is fluid, and Argentina is currently monitoring the datura ferox (a plant that contains deadly toxins), which affects this crop."

Batista said he was optimistic that Argentinean soy oil sales would soon resume to the Chinese market. The sales have been suspended since April 2010 due to China’s concern about the levels of hexane in soy oil they had imported from Argentina. However, Batista continues to be positive, noting that "China is the major worldwide buyer of soy oil — it consumes between 70% and 80% of the worldwide exportations — and Argentina is the first provider, supplying 50% of the world demand."

Due to the halt in exports to China, Batista said India, the world’s second biggest importer of soy oil, has become the main market for Argentina, although it has had to sell it at a lower price. With China deciding not to import soy oil from Argentina, Brazil and the United States are currently the biggest suppliers of the product to China.

Batista said the expectations about Argentina renewing trade with China are so positive that "negotiations are taking place to enter in the barley and malt markets in China, where the beer demand shows an ascendant curve. This will allow opening new alternatives for Argentina to supply this market in 2012, and the door to commercialize sorghum and corn in this country will be opened."

PERSPECTIVE FROM OTHER LATIN COUNTRIES

In addition to the Argentinean grain storage and handling experience, the Uruguayan, Brazilian and Chilean cases were presented at JORNATEC. Denise Deckers Do Amaral, Brazilian Association of Post-harvest (ABRAPOS), said that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Brazil will continue to be one of the world’s leading food suppliers for years to come.

"We are sure we will be this way because our production is able to continue growing and because the government promotes credit for this sector."

She said Brazil could achieve record production in 2010, with 147 million tonnes of grain.

Deckers stressed that Brazil needs to expand its storage capacity and "we need investments in railways to reduce 36% of shipping costs."

Ariel Bogliaccini, member of the Agriculture, Cattle and Fishing Ministry of Uruguay, referred to the achievements obtained in the food market in his country. Bogliaccini said Uruguay produces about 2 million tonnes of corn (maize) a year and exports 75% of that total. This is relevant considering that 10 years ago Uruguay used to export only 100.000 tonnes per year.

"In 2009, Argentina exported 2.5 million tonnes and its neighboring country, Uruguay, 1.5 million, which is significant considering that the historical difference was 10 times higher in favor of Argentina," said Bogliaccini.

He said this change not only took place because of the reduction in corn production in Argentina, but also because of the professionalization of this activity in Uruguay since 2000.

Uruguay has also seen an increase in wheat production, he said, but it has not been achieved without complications. The country is still going through logistic limitations, especially because of the port infrastructure available.

Another speaker, César Altamirano Lerma, general director of the Pheromones Company in Mexico, praised Argentina for the strides it has made as a grain and oilseed producer.

"Argentina is an example for the rest of the world," he said. "This is the reason they are the third or fourth largest producer in the world."

Altamirano Lerma highlighted the differences between Argentina and Mexico. "We have a population three times bigger and a less extensive (arable land) surface. That is why we only produce grains for half of the Mexican population."

He said that in order to cover half of its grain demand, Mexico historically imported from the United States and Canada, countries with which Mexico has a free trade agreement. However, the world crisis brought many changes.

"Today, we have a zero-tax policy with any country, therefore it is not a priority that the surplus of U.S. or Canadian production goes to Mexico," he said. "But this also forced us to buy in large volumes and not in quotas as we used to do. So we had to invest in infrastructure for storage, although there is still a lot of work to do."

At the same time, the greater quantity of storage requires a greater emphasis on combating insect-related plagues. For that reason, new alternatives to the conventional pesticides are being created, such as pheromones or molecules that are of no danger to humans. This is due to the measures of the regulatory authorities from the main export markets, the immunity developed by the insects and consumer demand.

The concern over the infrastructure conditions for stocking was a recurrent theme during JORNATEC. The increase in grain production in Latin American countries — with record numbers among some crops in Brazil and Argentina — as well as the distinct scenarios of international trade, have rendered the available storage insufficient.

The experts agreed that the lack of space is a crucial weakness for production development in the countries of this region. Many attending the event said there is a window open for potential investors in infrastructure in Latin America.

Cristina Kroll is a freelance writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She can be reached at
ckroll@infovia.com.ar.

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