Uruguay Table of Contents
Crop production in Uruguay has never been as important as livestock raising. Only about 8 percent of the land area was dedicated to growing crops in the mid-1980s, compared with 75 percent dedicated to livestock. The amount of land under cultivation has varied according to the world price of livestock products. When beef prices have declined, for example, ranchers have planted wheat or corn. Rising livestock prices in the 1980s resulted in a considerable decrease in the area dedicated to most crops. Because crop production had gradually become more efficient through mechanization, however, crop yields did not necessarily decline.
Although crop yields per hectare had generally increased, erosion of the thin topsoil layer became a significant problem in Uruguay during the 1980s. It was estimated that 30 percent of all arable areas had been adversely affected. The ill effects were most serious in areas that had been under continuous cultivation for long periods.
Rice surpassed wheat as Uruguay's most significant crop in the 1980s. In contrast to the general downward trend in farmed land area, the land dedicated to rice production increased from 55,000 hectares in 1980 to 81,000 hectares in 1988. Over this same period, production rose from 228,000 tons to 381,000 tons, a 67 percent increase. Only about 40,000 tons were consumed domestically; most of the rice was exported. The preferred farming system for rice production was closely connected to livestock raising. Rice was grown for two years; then the land was sown as pasture for four or five years to renew the fields and provide grazing for cattle. The most common variety produced was the American "Blue Belle" type. The drought that gripped Uruguay in 1988-89 caused rice producers to lose an estimated 6 percent of their crop, worth about US$2.4 million. The hardest hit areas were in the north, in the departments of Artigas, Rivera, and Tacuarembó.
Wheat production and hectarage both declined during most of the 1980s. This decline reflected the increasing land area dedicated to livestock production and the fact that Uruguayan wheat producers could not effectively compete with wheat producers in other countries. International competition became more important after the government discontinued its subsidies for wheat farmers during the economic liberalization of the 1970s. Uruguay was no longer self-sufficient in wheat production by the mid-1980s, when about 80,000 tons per year were imported. Wheat farming was largely mechanized by the 1980s, but advanced tractor equipment acted mainly to reduce the labor requirement on farms, rather than leading to huge production increases. Most farmers made only limited use of pesticides and fertilizers. Thus, wheat production per hectare was below that of most other countries. Nevertheless, the area dedicated to wheat farming rose in 1989, and production was expected to begin increasing again. Indeed, wheat production grew to 414,000 tons in 1988.
Corn production stagnated during the 1980-88 period. Like wheat farmers, corn farmers were adversely affected by the government's freeing of agricultural prices in the late 1970s. Unlike wheat, however, corn was not an important commercial crop; farmers used it primarily to feed their animals. No longer selfsufficient , Uruguay imported almost US$2 million worth of corn in 1988. Some farmers had substituted sorghum cultivation for corn because it provided roughly the same nutrition as corn but better withstood drought conditions.
Other crops produced in Uruguay in the 1980s included barley, soybeans, oats, sunflowers, peanuts, sugarcane, potatoes, flax, and cotton. Barley, soybeans, and sunflowers were produced mainly for export; the other crops were produced on only a small scale for the domestic market. Production of sugar was uneconomical, relying on a large government subsidy. Uruguay imported cotton (US$6.6 million in 1988) for its textile industry.
Citrus farming was a bright spot on the agricultural horizon in the 1980s. Citrus and produce farms were originally established around Montevideo to supply the city with fruits and vegetables. During the 1980s, these farms expanded, allowing Uruguay to become a net exporter of citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, and grapefruit). The exported value increased from US$5 million in 1980 to US$21 million in 1986. One large-scale citrus plantation added packing facilities and a juice-and-oil plant, with at least half of its production intended for export. The government encouraged such diversification of agriculture.
Data as of December 1990
Uruguay Table of Contents