I happened to be visiting him on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the start of the holidays in this predominantly Catholic country. Not only was he on holiday, but he had a houseful of guests - his brother-in-law and wife had driven 700km from Patagonia to see them, and his mother-in-law was there for lunch too. Additionally it was his younger son's 18th birthday that day. Regardless of all this, he not only gave up both days to educate me in the ways of combined arable and livestock farming in the Pampa region, he also insisted I joined the extended family for lunch. During the course of the meal, they were shocked to discover I had yet to experience a true Asado, an Argentinian barbecue, and immediately made plans to hold one that evening.
Dressed for the outside - the autumn air in Southern Buenos Aires was getting a distinct chill - I was surprised to discover the meat was going to be cooked over the open fire in the main living room. A grill pan was placed to the side of a wood fire, the meat was placed on top and a thin layer of hot embers, scooped out of the fire was placed under neath it. These were replenished several times during the hour long cooking process and the resultant meat - ribs, flank and sausage - served with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, was delicious.
On Friday morning we got down to more serious business - discussing forage for cows rather than for me! Fernando, in conjunction with the University of Buenos Aires, was using NASA satellite imagery to determine the dry matter production of the forage ground for all the group members. The system works like this: NASA makes the raw data available free of charge. This shows the level of green cover for a crop (green area index) and hence its ability to intercept sunlight.
Using meteorological records for the amount of photosynthetically active radiation received during each month, and by knowing the green area index (and hence the proportion of this sunlight intercepted by the crop), the amount of dry matter production can be calculated. Hence, on a field by field basis, Fernando knows by the 15th of the month following exactly how much forage the previous month yielded.
He has already worked out a grass budget for the farm, based on the dry matter requirements of the animals - 3% of body weight for fatteners and cows with calves at foot, falling to 2.5% (or less) for dry in-calf cows - and total cattle numbers in each category. This allows him to monitor production against expected usage and take early action should the two figures fall out of line for any reason.
The grass budget for one of the farms in the CREA Lamadrid group. The blue line is the forecast grass demand based on expected consumption. The green line is the forecast grass and forage production from all the pasture land on the farm. This farm shows quite a healthy surplus for the majority of the year, despite being expected to end the period with higher cattle numbers than it started with. Deferred grazing from the surplus times will be used to cover during the two points where demand outstrips supply
Another example of the meticulous planning and record keeping which has been a feature of my time in Argentina.