Organic meat: the family that bet on another way to grow
21 Feb 2021
The Bianchi Family produces certified organic beef in General Las Heras, in the province of Buenos Aires.
Fernando Bianchi summarizes it like this: “We are temporary custodians of natural resources and we have the duty and responsibility to take care of these resources.” In the country of the best meat, that is the motto of Bianchi, which has long sought to add value to its livestock production. In General Las Heras, in the province of Buenos Aires, it produces certified organic beef where the animals are on natural pastures without using agrochemicals for weed control or fertilizers. Antiparasitic products are not used either. Its meat today reaches restaurants, private homes and is exported.
Twenty years after its inception, the La Julia farm runs a herd of 1000 animals, mainly of the Colorado Angus breed. They are reared there for 36 months and an average fattening rate of 0.5 kilos per day is achieved on natural pastures.
It was 1994 and Bianchi’s life in the city of Buenos Aires went on normal lanes and, despite having studied agricultural administration, from the beginning he decided to work in a family construction company with his father and brother. But that year, with his wife Valerie Bate, they decided to make a turn in their lives: look for a green place near the city where they could spend the weekends and, at the same time, add an agricultural production activity.
In this sense, in General Las Heras, in the Durazno stream basin, they managed to buy a 240-hectare breeding field. Although the establishment was abandoned, overgrazed and with dilapidated facilities, the entrepreneurs liked the challenge. “In La Julia there was everything to do, it was a blank page,” says Bianchi in dialogue with LA NACION about the beginning of the activity in the field. With no livestock experience, he sought advice from an acquaintance and started with conventional production. He bought a cage of CUT cows (calf last calf) that, in the end, had to give more than one calf in the field. At the same time, they rebuilt the hull and facilities on site.
The shift towards sustainable ranching was the product of the gift of a book on intensive rational grazing. It was thus that he understood that there was another possible productive path. “It was a radical change to think about things from another place and see the complete picture of the production history,” the 56-year-old cattle producer tells this medium.
He connected with those who did the Voisin method and tried to put into practice what the book said about pastoral feeding. Little by little the management of the field changed.
In this context, it took a few years until in a talk in 2000, he heard that the ranchers who carried out this type of grazing were one step away from organic production.
The following year he contacted the International Agricultural Organization (OIA) to certify his production as organic. From that moment they began to sell their calf production to some people from Cordoba as organic wintering. Then, to go one step further, in 2004 they added some 500 hectares of better quality to complete the cycle, finishing the fattening of their own steers and starting to export to the European Union (EU).
At that time, at a congress in Brazil, he met Allan Savory and his holistic management of agricultural production that is central to “looking at everything.”
“I became aware that it was necessary to enhance the life of the soil, then produce grass and turn it into meat. We try to add biodiversity to the ecosystem and the soil, which today is used as a floor and is nourished with chemical fertilizers,” says the producer. In the place they made green corridors and the lagoons were segregated for the ecosystem as a moisture reserve to enhance the production of grass and the installation of beneficial insects.
In 2006 they replicated the model in a field in Paysandú, Uruguay, with the production of organic wintering that they sell as conventional because “there is not yet a developed market for organic.”
In 2015, meanwhile, they became involved with the Rodale Institute in the United States. “Pioneers in the organic, they already spoke that being sustainable was not enough, that a step forward had to be taken: the regeneration of the soils. We added a new layer to the program from the bottom up, which seeks to improve the infiltration and sequestration of carbon, “he says.
Some time ago, Carolina, Matías and Francisco, their children, joined in, who developed the brand, communication and marketing of meat. “We understood that we were selling an excellent product with great added value but that there was not a big difference in price,” he explains.
They agreed with an organic meat processing company to carry out the stripping and vacuum packaging and then commercialize it in Buenos Aires to individuals and restaurants “with a specific proposal: La Julia Organics, from the field to the table.” In addition to the OIA, with the idea of exporting organic meat to the United States in 2018, they started the USDA Organic certification process. They also obtained the Organic Argentina, Alianza del Pastizal and Rodale Institute Approved certifications.
Numbers and data
The Bianchi apply livestock techniques focused on process technology. With a regenerative, organic and holistic management, they divided the surface of the fields by productive environments with changes of plots of up to twice a day, according to the categories of the animals. The load per hectare in winter is 1.3 Ug (livestock unit) and in spring, summer and autumn 1.7 Ug.
Production costs are around 60/70 kilos per hectare and profits of between 200/220 kilos per hectare are generated. With three annual tasks: summer, autumn and spring, its limited artisanal meat production aims to take advantage of the complete animal, from end to end, to promote responsible consumption of the animal.
In spring, as they have a surplus of grass due to combining a more rapid advance, standing out with the animals and not making rolls, they leave lots deferred in summer. When they are grazed they do so with high instantaneous loads, seeking a fertilization impact.
Regarding health, due to the certifications that they must complete, they follow a strict sanitary protocol that requires working without agrochemicals and doing biological control with natural alternatives; He is only vaccinated for foot and mouth disease, carbuncle and brucellosis. It is not dewormed. Every year about 1,500 trees are afforested to form protective curtains and shady hills that benefit soils and animals, where plantations form green corridors for wildlife and the development of beneficial insects. “There is another way to produce food and do it organically to help sustain the planet; the soil resource is our goal,” he concludes.
Aim for a triple hit
With a focus on the health of the soils, the environment and the community, for the Bianchi family building added value in their livestock production is the goal. “It is a perfect combination of genetics, product traceability, increased fertility of our soils due to regenerative management and the information we provide for the consumer,” remarks producer Fernando Bianchi in dialogue with LA NACION.
They seek to generate a triple impact. Economically, its management does not depend on inputs but on process technology, that is, “obtaining a positive return with profits from livestock production for export and, at the same time, from sales in the local market.” Regarding the ecological, with four ecosystem processes (water cycle, minerals, community dynamics and energy flow), they seek to increase the fertility and regeneration of the soil.
“It is a strategic production that develops biodiversity within the ecosystem, creating an ecological restoration,” says the cattle producer. Finally, in the social aspect, they try to generate a positive impact in the immediate community by promoting roots and rural work. They also seek to produce food in an ethical and natural way to provide nutrition and safety to consumers at the end of the production chain.