Over the past few months, Argentine farmers have been plagued by vandals visiting their fields in the dead of night and slashing open their silobags. Each bag, which measures 200 feet long and several feet high, is filled with freshly harvested soybeans.
Because soybeans are a major source of export revenue for Argentina, those soybean bags are valued at about $100,000 each. However, this hefty amount of money has only made the attacks all the more controversial, with many attributing them to supporters of the country’s leftist government.
In fact, many farmers are convinced that the motives behind the mysterious raids are political – and for good reason. Since the early 2000s, Argentina’s farming sector and then-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have been battling over the high taxes placed on soybean exports.
Fernandez de Kirchner herself, who now serves as the country’s vice president, has labeled Argentine farmers as “a greedy clique of businessmen.” Farmers believe that remarks like this are emboldening those behind the sabotage of their silobags.
Farmers are also convinced that the raids are an attempt to scare them into exporting their soybeans in order to generate revenue for the country. In recent times, farmers have been holding onto their bags for months in anticipation of rampant inflation as the value of the Argentine peso continues to plummet.
In a statement, top farmer association Argentine Rural Confederations likened the recent raids to a virus that expands “with the sole premise of damaging for damage’s sake.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Pelegrina, head of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), said that past raids were commonly attributed to trade union problems. “[But] they’re colored differently now, more politically,” he added.
Government officials were quick to dismiss these theories, while others saw it as farmers hoarding soy stocks, severely limiting supply, raising prices and crushing the industry. In October, S&P Global reported that more than 50 percent of Argentine soy stock is being hoarded by farmers. Industry experts claim that this hoarding of soybeans is making it difficult for Argentina to meet rising global demands, primarily from China.
Politically motivated or not, farmers have had enough of the raids. In the central province of Cordoba, which supplies a quarter of the country’s soybean output, the local agriculture minister is working on a project with three companies in the area to develop silobag alarms.
The companies are already on the cusp of starting trials in the city of Rio Cuarto. Engineers have already put up antennae for signals to detect intruders.
From there, farmers would need to purchase a mother node, which costs about $90, and cheaper nodes for each silobag. Information from the alarms will get uploaded to a live database that police can see.
With the alarms in place, rural patrols have a high chance of catching raiders red-handed. Moreover, farmers can also use the alarms to protect their tractors and trucks from theft, added Conrado Berbe, president of one of the alarm developers, Arsit SA.
If the pilot testing in Rio Cuatro goes well, Cordoba might consider using public funds to implement security measures across the province, said Sergio Busso, the region’s agriculture minister. Meanwhile, Berbe said he hopes to be done with testing by the end of the year.
Farmers in neighboring provinces are also showing interest in Cordoba’s pilot project. Berbe said he received calls from Santa Fe and Santiago del Estero. “Farmers are worried.” (Related: First Venezuela, now Argentina on the verge of financial catastrophe.)
Learn more about Argentina’s soybean industry at FoodSupply.news.