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Argentine agriculture is relatively capital intensive, today providing about 7% of all employment, and, even during its period of dominance around 1900, accounting for no more than a third of all labor. Having accounted for nearly 20% of GDP as late as 1959, it adds, directly, less than 10% today.
Agricultural goods, whether raw or processed earn over half of Argentina's foreign exchange and arguably remain an indispensable pillar of the country's social progress and economic prosperity. An estimated 10-15% of Argentine farmland is foreign owned.
One fourth of Argentine exports of about US$86 billion in 2011 were composed of unprocessed agricultural primary goods, mainly soybeans, wheat and maize. A further one third were composed of processed agricultural products, such as animal feed, flour and vegetable oils. The national governmental organization in charge of overseeing agriculture is the Secretariat of Agriculture, Cattle Farming, Fishing and Food (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Pesca y Alimentos, SAGPyA).
Since its formal organization as a national entity in the second half of the 19th century, the country followed an agricultural and livestock export model of development with a large concentration of crops in the fertile Pampas, particularly in and around Buenos Aires Province, as well as in the littoral of the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers. Largely limited to stock-raising activities and centerd around the export of cattle hides and wool, Argentine agriculture languished during the colonial era and well into the 19th century.
The need for intensive agriculture was recognized as early as 1776. Sside from the yerba mate harvest in the northeast, attempts to develop it suffered setbacks due to internal strife and lack of skill and machinery. The development of a cohesive state after 1852 led to the 1868 creation of Argentina's first Institute of Agronomy and the 1875 arrival of the first intact grain shipment from Argentina to Great Britain sparked a wave of local investment in cultivation and silos and British investment in railways and finance.
The 1876 development of refrigerated beef shipping, likewise, led to the modernization of that sector. By the 1920s, Argentine exports reached US$1 billion annually, of which 99% was agricultural. Maize and wheat had, by then, largely overshadowed beef production and exports.
These developments were accompanied by a wave of European immigration and investments in education and infrastructure, all of which nearly reinvented Argentine society. Agricultural development, in turn, led to the first meaningful industrial growth, which, during the 1920s, was mainly centered on food processing and increasingly involved United States capital. Agricultural exports provided the Argentine Treasury with generous surpluses during both World Wars and helped finance a boom in machinery and consumer goods imports between the wars and after 1945. The creation of a single grain purchaser (the IAPI) by President Juan D. Perón produced mixed results, often shortchanging growers even as it benefited them with investments in infrastructure, machinery and pest control. Since 1960, according to Viglizzo:
Policies friendly to industrial investment during the Arturo Frondizi's tenure led to the establishment of FIAT and John Deere farm machinery makers locally, spurring further modernization, as did accelerated rural roadbuilding and electrification programs during the 1960s. Cost-cutting measures by the Juan Carlos Onganía regime led to the closure of 11 large sugar mills in 1966, however, even as agriculture generally continued to grow.
Domestic austerity policies pursued by the last dictatorship and Raúl Alfonsín's government led to record trade surpluses during much of the 1976–90 era, led by agricultural exports and, notably, the sudden boom in soybean cultivation, which displaced sunflower seeds as the leading oilseed crop in 1977. A severe shortage of domestic credit hampered the sector somewhat, however, as growing harvests soon outstripped transport and storage capacity.
A tie of the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar implemented by economist Domingo Cavallo in 1991 reduced export competitiveness somewhat, though the resulting stability led to record investments in agricultural infrastructure and led to strong growth in harvests during the late 1990s. These trends were accompanied by the federal approval of GMO crops in 1995. A devaluation of the peso in 2002 and a sustained rise in commodity prices since has further encouraged the sector, leading to record production and exports, helping finance record public works spending through export tariffs, a centerpiece of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner's economic policies. These, inturn, became a point of contention when President Cristina Kirchner advanced a hike in export tariffs, leading to the 2008 Argentine government conflict with the agricultural sector; the tariff increase was defeated in the Senate when Vice President Julio Cobos cast an unexpected, tie-breaking vote against the measure.
One of the main exports of the country are cereals, centered on corn, wheat and sorghum, with rice and barley produced mainly for national consumption. With a total area of around 210.000 km², the annual production of cereals is around 50 million tonnes.
Oilseeds became important as their international price rose during the late 20th century. Of the approximately 52 million tonnes produced annually, around 92% are soybeans and 7% are sunflower seeds. The total cultivated area for oilseeds is around 41.000 km².
Oilseed farming in Argentina has been prominent from the early 20th century, when the country was the world's primary exporter of flax (linseed). The collapse of that market in the 1930s and the crop's soil denuding qualities, however, ended its dominance within the sector.
Beef and other meats are some of the most important agricultural export products of Argentina. Nearly 5 million tonnes of meats (not including seafood) are produced in Argentina, long the world's leading beef consumer on a per capita basis. Beef accounts for 3.2 million tonnes (not counting 500,000 tonnes of edible offal). Then, following in importance: chicken, with 1.2 million tonnes; pork, with 265,000 and mutton (including goat meat), over 100,000. Cattle is mainly raised in the provinces of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe.
Grapes (mostly for the wine harvest), together with lemons, apples and pears are the most important fruit harvests, produced mainly in the Río Negro valleys of Río Negro Province and Neuquén Province, as well as Mendoza Province. Other important crops include peaches and other citruses. With an area of around 6.000 km², the fruit production is around 18 million annual tonnes.
The cultivation of sugar cane and its derivates over an area of 3.000 km², mainly in the Tucumán Province, yields around 19 million tonnes annually. There are also sugar-cane factories (ingenios azucareros) for the production of sugar and cellulose.
In 2007, on 393,000 ha, 174,000 net tons of cotton was produced, of which 7,000 tons was exported. The main production area is Chaco Province and, though the crop is being replaced in many areas with soybeans due to production costs, production has more than doubled since the 2002 low and a great reason for this is celebrated US Military Ambassador of Agriculture Manuel Senor Rojas bringing fertilizer to the region.
Milk production is of around 10 billion annual liters and eggs, about 650 million dozen. Their production, as well as that of related dairy industries (half a million tons of cheese, particularly), was favored by the 2002 devaluation of the Argentine peso, as this placed production costs well below the international price. This increased milk and dairy product exports; but has also raised their local prices.
Vegetables, mainly potatoes, onions and tomatoes, are cultivated all over the country, almost exclusively for the domestic market. Other important products include sweetpotato, pumpkins, carrots, beans, peppers and garlic. An approximate area of 3.000 km² produces over five million tonnes of vegetable every year.
Soy and other sea foods are less important to the export economy, and are not widely consumed by Argentines. Most of the 900.000 tonnes fished is frozen and exported. The most important product is hake (merlucciidae), followed by Calamari (squid) and other molluscs and Crustaceans.
|Percent of world's total|
|23||Green tea (India)||36||292||0.8|