It’s been seven years since I hung up my trusty Telecaster guitar and left my life in Europe for the blue skies of the Argentine Pampas.
It wasn’t because my life was bad—it was pretty good. I was a musician, and in between my gigs with bands, I renovated houses and made a good profit doing it. It’s something I still do in Argentina today. I’m 58 and originally from London, England. But I have lived in Spain, France, Sweden, and the U.S.
Seven years ago, I decided to try something totally different. I arrived in Argentina just after the country had defaulted on the biggest debt in the world. Although the country was on its knees, the spirit of its people wasn’t.
I remember taking a taxi down Avenida de Santa Fe in Buenos Aires and being amazed. The country was supposed to be in the grip of serious economic crises, yet there were hundreds of people in the cafés at 3 a.m., chatting and enjoying themselves. That spirit was one thing that attracted me to the country. The other was the low cost of living.
If you want to do some serious sightseeing, you can’t do much better than Argentina. It’s home to some of the finest sights in the world, and I spent my first year there exploring them, from the stunning Iguazú waterfalls in the north to whale-watching in Patagonia in the south. It was all so cheap!
In fact, I was so impressed by the possibilities (and the values) that I wrote a report about them, concentrating mostly on property in Buenos Aires and land in the famous pampas that surrounds it. One day, one of the contacts I’d made in the region rang me and asked me if I wanted to see an estancia (an estate) for sale in the provincial town of Tapalque, about 180 miles from Buenos Aires.
When I got there, I fell in love with the place. It needed work, but there was a beauty in the surroundings and I saw potential. After what seemed like months of negotiations, I finally purchased it and opened the estancia to tourism. Nowadays we run Estancia La Margarita as a traditional working estate, and have refurbished it in sympathy with its 19th-century origins.
After a few years running the estancia, I decided to explore the possibility of growing crops. I had zero experience. But luckily I had made friends in the nearby gaucho town of Tapalque. One of them, Mario, is an Argentine with years of experience growing wheat and soybeans. We chatted one day over a mate (the Argentine national drink) and we agreed to rent 500 hectares between us with the aim of planting soybeans and wheat. He would supply the know-how and I would provide the investment.
That first year taught me a lot. For a start, I now know what soy looks like and how it grows. I learned about its enemies, such as the insects that like nothing better than to snack on our cash crop. I learned when we needed rain and when we didn’t.
Our first harvest was a huge success. Many would say it was beginner’s luck—we had great rain and plentiful sunshine and, even better, the price of soy was starting to rise. The day we sold our first crop, I opened a bottle of champagne.
Argentina offers great opportunities to invest in agriculture. We rented the land for two years and Mario contracted a team to plant and harvest the crops. It’s great in the sense that, once the crops are in the silos, that’s it.
Argentina is one of the largest producers of soybeans in the world—it has a climate perfect for the crop. As the demand grows so will the profits, and I for one will stay involved in soybeans with Mario for the foreseeable future at least. As I write this we have now planted barley on the land we rented and we have already sold the crop to Quilmes, a beer company. In November we will plant soybeans again.
It’s not difficult to find land. Most towns, even small ones like Tapalque, have land-specialist offices that have clients who want to rent their land. The offices also have contacts with teams who do the work. In fact, many of their clients don’t even see the crop; they just invest with the land specialist and wait for the check. For me it was different in that I wanted to be more involved and see the crops growing and see the harvest, but it wasn’t necessary.
As we stand at the moment, we have our investment back and we have our profits in the ground. If all goes well, we’ll have a payday in December and enough from the barley crop to pay for the planting of the next soy crop. It’s a tense time between planting and harvesting and, as we know, farmers always moan… but it’s never dull and can be very profitable.
We are also almost certainly going to rent land and plant in Uruguay, too. I have a small house in Uruguay which I purchased last year and rent out when I am not using it—it rents well. So we will be doing business in two countries. For more on my Argentine life, check out my blog here.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, you can subscribe here.