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Juan Magnoni surveys a potato crop. Photo: El Parque Papas.

Potatoes in the Pampas

Situated in the fertile Pampas region of Argentina, El Parque Papas is a bustling potato business that produces and stores chipping and french fry stock for the processing market. It boasts a pair of the biggest names in the global potato market — McCain and PepsiCo — as its main customers.

El Parque Papas currently supplies about 23,000 tonnes of chipping potatoes annually for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division. In addition, it provides about 8,000 tonnes of potatoes each year for McCain Argentina, which operates one french fry processing plant in the country. The McCain plant is in the city of Balcarce, about 100 kilometres away from the town of Comandante Nicanor Otamendi where El Parque Papas is headquartered.

In January, three Canadian executives from McCain Foods along with 16 McCain-affiliated growers from New Brunswick and Maine visited El Parque Papas as part of an eight-day tour of Argentina’s potato production areas.

Juan Magnoni, the technical operating director for El Parque Papas, helped show the North American delegation around the company’s facilities, located about five-and-a-half hour drive southeast of Argentina’s prime metropolis, Buenos Aires.

According to Magnoni, the current production area for El Parque Papas is 620 hectares, up from 200 hectares when the company first started growing potatoes about a dozen years ago. Like many Argentinean spud producers, El Parque Papas doesn’t actually own the land it grows its potatoes on.

“The typical rotation here is this area, is potato, then wheat, then soya, then corn, then wheat again, and then potato. All of our fields are rented, so we only do potatoes. We rent the field for one year,” says Magnoni, adding that the fields are irrigated. Annual yields, he says, are in the range of 48 to 50 tonnes per hectare.

Move into Seed Production

El Parque Papas, which has a permanent staff of 16 and also employs 25 temporary workers, also starting producing seed potatoes three years ago. “We grow seed potatoes to provide our operation with seed stock,” says Magnoni.

The company’s seed potato operation encompasses about 80 hectares and is actually located in another part of Argentina that’s hundreds of kilometres away. According to Magnoni, the seed potatoes are grown in a protected area where pressure from potato diseases is very low.

The growing season for potatoes in Argentina is generally much longer than it is in Canada. “In this area, we start planting at the beginning of September and we end by the beginning of December so it’s a big window for planting,” Magnoni says.

The harvesting window is also huge by Canadian standards, typically beginning in January and ending by June. As a result, El Parque Papas is able to supply McCain and its other processing clients with fresh potatoes from its fields for almost half of the year.

El Parque Papas also has a state-of-the-art storage facility that features cold bulk storage rooms as well as a refrigeration plant and high-tech monitoring systems for controlling temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide conditions. The storage capacity is 11,000 tonnes for processing potatoes and 3,000 tonnes for seed potatoes.

Magnoni says the company’s future plans include a number of important expansions. El Parque Papas is planning to invest in a greenhouse so it can start growing its own mini-tubers, and a brand-new headquarters is also in the works.

“We’re in the process of building a new office because we’ve grown a lot,” says Magnoni. He adds that’s it’s going to be a green facility, reflecting the company’s commitment to the environment and sustainable agricultural practices.

“We’re going to recycle the water and use [solar] power to produce all the energy we need inside the office,” Magnoni says. “It’s something that’s going to be unique.”

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