INCO Patagonia SA is a producer of alfalfa bales on approaching 200 hectares in the irrigated desert zone of 25 de Mayo in northern Patagonia, Argentina. A combination of high heliofany and thermal amplitude, low relative humidity and alkaline soils provide excellent conditions for alfalfa production.

The alfalfa is irrigated by runoff water from the Andes mountains and the agronomic and economic efficiency of water application is the key determinant of quality and success. Over a third of our production and over half of the production in our zone deploys pivot irrigation.

Due to the large distances between our farm and the domestic centres of consumption (and even more so for export) we have analysed the costs and benefits of dehydrating/compacting plants. Whilst the compacting element can be justified (there are now two compacting plants in the region) the energy cost of dehydrating is difficult to justify in desert conditions with average annual rainfall of 261mm and where newly cut alfalfa can be sun dried in 48 hours during the three months of peak production.

Instead our challenge is to find an environmentally friendly way to bring the 13-15% humidity alfalfa from the field to and through a compacting plant whilst minimising leaf loss and then to use solar energy to power the compacting process. Then we need to find uses for the compacting plant outside of the harvest season. We would be very interested to hear from fellow producers who have met these challenges.