The Heat Is Online

Argentine Drought Devastates Cattle, Wheat Crops

Rains Bring Some Relief to Drought-Hit Argentina, Oct. 1, 2008


BUENOS AIRES - Heavy rains over the weekend brought some relief to farmers in Argentina, but the showers arrived too late to reverse the damage to wheat crops and grazing cattle from months of severe drought.


Tens of thousands of cattle have died in recent months, starving to death on shriveled pastures, and agriculture analysts say the wheat harvest could fall 25 percent this year as a result of the parched conditions.


Even beekeepers have been affected, with many relocating beehives from the worst-hit areas in a desperate search for verdant pasture and flowers in the South American country which is one of the world's leading suppliers of grains and beef.


Farmers said the weekend rains would ease the situation in the driest areas, but for many the drought has already taken its toll.


"Today is a wonderful day because it's raining, but the consequences have been disastrous, the losses have been numerous," said Carlos Vera, a cattle rancher from the northern province of Chaco, one of the hardest hit.


Local television has shown dead animals scattered across the cracked earth of the region in recent days, describing farmers' desperate efforts to save their animals as temperatures rise in the southern hemisphere spring.


"I've lost 5 percent of my herd and the amount of weight the animals have lost is impressive, steers of 500 kilos lost between 150 and 200 kilos each. It's been the same for thousands of farmers in Chaco," Vera added.


Rains started to fall in farming regions in Argentina last week, but they only spread as far as Chaco on Monday.




Argentina's wheat crop has been badly affected by the drought. The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange expects output to fall by as much as 25 percent due to a smaller growing area and lower yields.

Some farmers have already utilized struggling wheat stands to feed hungry livestock.


The US Department of Agriculture expects production to fall to 12.5 million tonnes this season from 16 million tonnes in the 2007/08 campaign.


Corn and sunflower planting is behind schedule, with growers waiting as late as possible to sow, hoping for a change in the weather. Analysts have already trimmed back their growing area estimates.


Soy, Argentina's top crop, is not planted until October, meaning a bigger area could be dedicated to the oilseed as farmers abandon their plans to sow earlier-seeded crops.


"Between 500,000 and 700,000 hectares that ... were initially going to be for corn will pass to soy," said German Heinzenknecht, an analyst at the Applied Climatology Center in southern Buenos Aires province.


The drought, the worst for a century in some areas, has added to farmers' woes. Earlier this year they were locked in a bitter conflict with the government over soy export taxes and they remain disgruntled with the administration's farm policy.


"There was a similar drought in 1905, a century ago, it's been that bad," said Roberto Campi, president of the local branch of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA) in the Pampas town of Pergamino, which lies some 220 km (135 miles) northwest of the capital Buenos Aires at the heart of the country's most productive crop belt.


The center-left government has given emergency aid to the worst-hit areas, but many farmers say it has not done enough.


Weather experts forecast an improvement in farming conditions in the coming weeks. In October, "there will be a gradual shift to more normal rain patterns," said Heinzenknecht.