In a relatively short time, soybeans have vaulted to the top position among Argentine crops. Considering the value of the country's soybean production and that of its seed, oil and meal exports, soybeans are now its No. 1 agricultural product.

The explosion started in the 1970s, when Argentina's cumulative annual growth rate of soybean production exceeded 50%, and acreage increased from 37,700 hectares to 1,925,000 hectares. Then, in the last 18 years, acreage increased 263%, to 7,176,000 hectares (18.5 million acres) in 1998. During that period, acreage of other crops, mainly corn, wheat and sunflowers, increased by only 4.3%.

However, soybean yield increases have lagged behind those of other crops since 1980. That's thought to be because part of the crop's fast expansion has been on lower-quality land. But soybeans have remained more profitable than other crops, despite lower yield gains. Crop cost and gross margin data for Argentina's Pampean region show that soybeans remained slightly more pro fitable than corn and much better than wheat and sunflowers throughout the '80s and '90s.

(Miguel Peretti, INTA, Argentina)