Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):
Argentina, located in southern South America, lies between 22 and 55° south latitude and 53 and 73° west longitude. It has an area of 3,761,274 km2 and from them 2,791,810 km2 correspond to the American continent and 969,464 km2 to the Antarctic continent, including the South Orcadas (Orkney) Islands, South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands. Argentina’s topography is highly diverse and contrasting, showing northwest plateaus, forest, and glaciers in the Patagonia region, immense eastern plains, and the Andes Mountains in the west, where the highest peak of America can be found: the 6,959-m-high Aconcagua. Argentina’s landmass is made up of 54% plains (savannas and grasslands), 23% plateaus, and 23% mountains and glaciers.
Argentina has subtropical and temperate climates that can be classified into four main types: warm, moderate, arid, and cold; each of them displays changing features due to the extension of the country and the presence of mountain chains. The warm climate with average temperatures above 20 oC is characteristic of Argentina’s north region.
Argentina is the fourth biggest country in America and the seventh in the world. According to the 2011 census, its population increased from 36.3 million in 2001 to 40.1 million in 2010, going from a density of 9.7 to 10.7 persons per square kilometer during the same period. In contrast, the agricultural population had a negative growth rate equal to ?11.1% for 2000-10 and went from 3.5 million in 2001 to 3.1 million in 2010. In 1990, the urban population represented 86.9% and for 2011 it corresponded to 92.4% of the total population; only 7.6% was rural, and this is expected to be only 5.4% by 2030.
Recent developments in the rice sector
In Argentina, rice production is on a large scale with a minimum farm size of 50 ha, which is highly mechanized. Rice is grown mainly in rotation with cattle grazing and also in rotation with pastures. The uniqueness of this rice production system is that the seed is drilled into the dry soil and water is pumped from the rivers Paraná, Bermejo, and Uruguay.
High-yielding japonica and indica varieties from Oryza sativa are cultivated and two grain types are preferred: large-thin and large-wide. However, the first grain type is the most widely planted, corresponding to 95% of the rice area.
Paddy rice occupies the thirteenth place in Argentina’s commodities, with 5.2% of total grain production after maize (51.6%), wheat (29.7%), sorghum (7.1%), and barley (5.4%), and represents 0.6% of the primary crops. Even though rice is not one of the main commodities, its production, harvested area, and yield have increased markedly, going from 428,100 t, 116,620 ha, and 3.7 t/ha in 1990 to 1,240,600 t, 215,053 ha, and 5.8 t/ha in 2010, respectively. This remarkable production increase is related to an expansion in harvested area, increase in yield, mechanization, and better agricultural practices.
In 2010-11, growth in harvested area and production continued, as national rice area grew 20%. As a result, the largest national rice production was obtained with 1,753,200 t during the 2010-11 harvest. This increase is the result of the technology applied by INTA-Proarroz, the use of new rice varieties obtained in Entre Ríos, good agricultural practices such as appropriate sowing date and seed population, adequate fertilization, and better irrigation management. The implementation of these measures started in 1994 with the Corrientes Rice Project and in 2004 it was strengthened with the association of FLAR with the program called Management for High Yields.
Argentina is among the countries with low rice consumption per capita. The diet in this country is based on fewer than 10 products that contribute 80% of the calories required, including bread, flour, pasta, beef, sugar, cheese, potato, and rice. Cereals contribute 33% of the dietary calories, while rice provides less than 3% of calories and 2% of protein. However, rice calorie and protein shares have increased in the last 20 years by more than 37%.
Even when rice is not one of the main foods produced or consumed in Argentina, it is relevant in the international market, being an exportable product, especially to Mercosur countries. For instance, per capita consumption in 2009 was only 8 kg/year versus 76 kg/year in China. The rice trade in Argentina is characterized by export quantities that sharply exceed import quantities. Almost 60% of the rice production is exported and, from 1990 to 2009, rice exports increased by about 8 times, going from 75,227 t to 612,927 t. In 2009, Argentina was the second export country of paddy rice with 67,866 t after the United States (1,467,130 t), but ranked eleventh among milled rice-exporting countries and among rice-exporting countries with 359,278 t and 427,144 t, respectively.
In Argentina, three agricultural regions can be distinguished. The humid region covers 25% of the country, the semiarid region 15%, and the arid region accounts for 60% of the total area. Rice production in Argentina is concentrated in the humid region, the northeast part of the country, where the climate varies from temperate to humid subtropical. Two main rice-producing regions can be distinguished: the South Littoral and North Littoral. The South Littoral includes Entre Ríos and the North Littoral encompasses Corrientes, Formosa, Chaco, and Santa Fe. In those provinces, production is distributed in this way: Corrientes has 40%, Entre Ríos 38%, Santa Fe 16%, Chaco 3%, and Formosa 3%.
In Argentina, the predominant production system for commercial rice is irrigated, but there are some small areas of upland rice in Tucumán (for self-consumption). As a consequence, for rice production, the location and extension of production areas are dependent on water availability rather than on soil quality. The irrigation system used differs between provinces. Since the 1990s in Entre Ríos, water is extracted from deep wells using a pump instead of taking it from rivers and streams. In Corrientes, water for irrigation comes mainly from dams and rivers. In less than 10% of the area, deep wells are used. In Santa Fe, Formosa, and Chaco, water is still taken from rivers and streams.
In the North Littoral, the main production constraints are lower soil fertility and the low pH that affect crop yield. On the other hand, in the South Littoral, water availability at sowing time is the most determinant factor. For instance, in 2010-11, rice production in Corrientes was remarkably high because of the water accumulated in dams.
Rice production in Corrientes is enough to feed Argentina’s people. It has good quality and yield; however, it must face some inconveniences in the international market because stability of the dollar is not proportional to the inflation in U.S. currency that affects activity in inputs such as labor and machinery. As a consequence, while production cost grows, international prices show a tendency to fall. In addition, the export taxes imposed by the new government affect the competitiveness of rice prices and prevent producers from reaping the true benefit of stronger international commodity prices. For rice, export taxes are 10% for paddy rice and 5% for processed rice.
Other important constraints in Corrientes are the absence of a shipping port on the Paraná River to ship rice production and the use of diesel to pump irrigation water from pumps and rivers. This together with taxes, freight, and withholdings negatively affect rice prices and, now, in some cases, production is generating losses. For instance, those rice producers that consume more than 150 liters of diesel for their gasoline pumps have large economic losses and are almost out of the rice production business.
In addition to the explained constraints, each province must face its own difficulties. In the case of Santa Fe, for example, insufficient funding and a shortage of storage rooms and of drying equipment are the main limitations. As a consequence, rice producers have to sell their rice during the production period, it being impossible to keep it until prices rise.
Finally, the increase in soybean cultivated area had negatively affected rice production area and, in 2010, 18,130,900 ha had soybean crops in comparison with the 221,728 ha of rice. Soybean is more attractive to producers than rice because crop management is easier and the cost of crop establishment is lower.
Argentina’s government is looking forward to increasing rice production by 129% in 2020 according to the “Strategic Plan for Agro-industrial Development.” The main objective is to make Argentina a large food factory with added value, and social and environmental sustainability. In rice, the objective is to increase yield per hectare, the number of harvested hectares from 220,000 to 357,000 (62%), and production from 1.2 to 2.8 million t (129%).
In 2011, rice production costs decreased for some farmers as a result of the implementation of electric irrigation systems. This infrastructure improvement was available for 15% of Corrientes’ rice producers and is expected to benefit more people due to the construction of a high-voltage power line in the Upper Paraná. As a consequence, it is expected to decrease irrigation costs by about 60%. However, until now, less than 40% of the rice production area has electricity and the rest still uses gasoline or diesel. As a consequence, Argentina’s rice sector risks a complete loss of competitiveness in the future.
In addition, the construction of a port for the transportation of grains is expected to occur in the near future in order to decrease shipping costs. Feasibility and infrastructure studies will be carried out in 2013.
Regarding the international market, the main importer of Argentina’s rice is Brazil; however, Argentina is making big advances in rice production in order to supply the domestic market. Argentina, as well as the other Mercosur countries, has an important advantage because it has a 10–12% import tariff exemption. Argentina’s rice also excels in quality and transportation costs are low.
Source: FAO's FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT databases online, as of September 2012.