[Growing] soy can be twice as profitable per acre as raising cattle. Adding to the disincentives of cattle are political pressures. To ensure domestic supplies of affordable beef for her highly carnivorous constituents, populist President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has placed tough export restrictions and price controls on beef.
The shift by ranchers away from raising cattle to growing soybeans and other row crops is causing a steady diminution of Argentina’s once immense cattle herds and centuries-old tradition of gauchos connected to them. The total cattle herd in Argentina is about 47.9 million head, down 17% from the 58.3 million as recently as 2007, according to the national cattlemen’s association. Meanwhile, the national harvest of soybeans this year is expected to reach 50 million tons, compared with the 30 million tons harvested a decade ago. Some experts expect the harvest to increase by an additional 20 million tons by the end of the decade.
The boom has been good for Argentina, which is third behind the United States and Brazil as the world’s leading producers of soy, a high-protein food especially popular in China and India.
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