The future of food. Organic meats advance in the fields
12 Mar 2022
More and more producers are betting on a different model to the feedlot, aiming at export and a consumer with greater environmental awareness.
There are several Argentine producers who decide to change course: abandon the already consecrated feedlot method to move to a more sustainable management of the territory. Some of these projects involve the management of native grasslands, certification of organic products and forest regeneration.
According to the latest report issued by Senasa, “Situation of Organic Production in Argentina during 2020”, organic livestock increased by 24% in 2020, using 4,195,053 hectares for this purpose.
Luis Barcos, a renowned agricultural veterinarian, introduced the Wagyu breed, also known as the “Japanese cow”, to Argentina. This meat is recognized worldwide for its tenderness and for its marbling of intramuscular fat that provides a particular flavor.
Juan Barcos, his son, works in his business Barcos & Sons, which specializes in the production, marketing and preparation of charcuterie with Wagyu meat.
Barcos Jr. is enthusiastic about how the market is opening up: “In Argentina, organic meat is growing, it didn’t exist before. We have been paddling it for 20 years, because no one was willing to spend another peso on a different meat” and distinguishes that “5 years ago this was not talked about”.
According to the producer, who helped to popularize this type of food was the gastronomic sector, which wanted to stand out by putting innovative proposals in its menus. “The same if you look, while a lot is said about a wine or a cheese when you get to the meat part, nothing is said yet: where it was produced, where the animal was born, its type of diet” and he emphasized: ” It’s a challenge to work.”
An eye of beef from Wagyu Barcos & sons can cost up to 14 times more than a traditional eye of beef, however it is worth clarifying that less is eaten, due to the satiety that this type of meat provides. “I have clients of all kinds, it is not something exclusive because the idea is to eat well and little” and he explained: “I have several private clients. People who gather the mango, who two or three times a year want to eat the best piece of meat and enjoy that treat.”
Their cows, unlike feedlot cows that spend 16 months in the pen, live about 36 months in the field and are fed on pasture. “Brands are appearing that you couldn’t even imagine before. You used to tell a producer about switching to the organic system and he told you it was crazy. The steer was put in the feedlot and voila, what came out was a commodity”.
Barcos points out that Argentina can compete in the world’s gondolas as luxury meat or “boutique” and expresses: “We have to stop making six-point meat and move on to something close to ten, seek to give added value. Argentina has the conditions to make the best meats in the world”, concluded the young man.
Murray Gray Production
Ezequiel Sack is a converted rancher. He went from producing in a traditional way to raising Murray Gray cows, protecting the natural grasslands of his fields.
The cattle are Australian, and he brought them over 20 years ago, pondering that they adapt very well to the territory and because of their white and red colors that prevent the animals from overheating.
Its “Native Grasslands” project consists of managing grazing systems with crop rotation, monitoring the health of grasses and soils to see how they evolve, guaranteeing their conservation. “The meat goes with this certification and has the virtue of having been finished in a field without fertilizers, without supplements or feedlot” says Sack.
The venture has several more certifications, among them, having been named a “B” company through a measurement system created in the United States that is responsible for measuring companies not only in economic terms, but also considering the social impact and environmental. He explains: “If you are getting rich, but you are destroying the environment, you are probably not earning money but leaving a cost to pay in the future.”
Meats from “Pastizales Nativos” are sold through their e-commerce platform and also at the Mercat de Villa Crespo, where the Sacks family set up a homonymous grill and a butcher shop with their products. They can also be found at other “boutique” butcher shops and on the plates of several high-end restaurants. The breeder refers to his meat as “a limited edition” since he only performs two slaughters per month of 15 animals each.
“Whoever buys this meat is being part of the concept of environmental responsibility, beyond how well this type of meat does the health of those who eat it,” and added: “We are up to date with the new consumption habits that have a positive effect against climate change,” said Sacks.
Although the prices of this meat are “similar to those sold in boutique butchers”, the cost structure of producing it is different.
“The costs are standardized for the traditional industry (the size of the cages, the prices of shipments) and since we have a small scale, it costs us more to produce,” explains the founder of Pastizales Nativos. He also referred to the difference in opportunity costs: “Perhaps I have more land costs, due to the cost of fattening in the open air, but I do not have the costs of other inputs that are used in traditional production” and then he defined ” It is a complex equation to evaluate the profitability of one project against the other.” However, for Sacks, its purpose goes beyond everything: “I can instead of having a negative impact on the environment, on the contrary, be positive,” he concluded.
A different aberdeen angus
The Bianchi family, being totally unrelated to the agrarian sector, bought a field in General Las Heras in 1994, which was completely abandoned and overgrazed.
Carolina, daughter of the couple and marketing specialist, remembers that her father stopped producing in a traditional way in 1997 and progressively began to raise Aberdeen Angus with rational grazing.
The transformation took a lot of work, but around 2,000 someone told his father, Fernando Bianchi: “You are very close to being able to obtain the organic certificate, because what you are doing is 100% pastoral, you are not planting grasslands, you have everything required by law” and that was where the fundamental turn in the business took place: “Then my father began to find out,” said Carolina, adding: “At the end of 2001 my family obtained the organic certificate under European standards.” This certification allowed them to export animals to Europe since in Argentina there was still no demand for this type of food. “Because of the Hilton level, there were cuts that had to go to the domestic market and we had to sell them without a difference in quality or price. There was no interest in what we were doing”, explains the strategic marketing specialist.
On the contrary, he was punished for being a product other than feedlot: “In town they referred to what my dad did as ‘diet cows,’” Carolina laughed.
Eventually, in 2015 they began to see breaks in consumption at the local level and that there is beginning to be an interest in another type of meat, learning more about its origin and upbringing. So in 2017 the opportunity arose to launch her own brand: La Julia organics, under organic certification by OIA, to directly reach direct consumers.
“Our production is limited, we only do three annual slaughters of 34 animals, due to the capacity of the field,” said Carolina. As for the prices, they affirm from the brand that they are above traditional meat only by 35 and 45% more.
The meat is sold to individuals through email and to gastronomic businesses and butcher shops are not available. “The cuts are sold with prior reservation, to order the orders and that we don’t have hanging cuts,” explained the young woman and added: “We seek to achieve end-to-end consumption of the animal. We want to encourage and educate in that sense.”
“In terms of billing, what happened was interesting, with traditional production, the amount of inputs and resources that we used, were much higher than the income”, analyzes Carolina and summarizes “It was not such a good business, the margins were very low”. Part of the explanation for this problem is that many of the prices “are dollarized and the system also makes you a slave to imported supplies. As a consequence, it becomes a very risky business, depending on the import policy of the government in power”.
The other problem with the previous production is that it was highly dependent on exports, which were sometimes closed, so the family concluded that they needed to strengthen the local market. “Regenerative and holistic management does not depend on inputs. It is technology in process that lowers costs. We improve the performance of the company and with the regeneration of the soil we also revalue the property”, concluded Bianchi.
Source: La Nacion
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