SAN ANTONIO DE ARECO — Estancias y Cabaña Las Lilas is one of Argentina's leading livestock firms, prospering in a country that loves beef and barbecues.

And while the firm was already known for breeding cattle and for efficient land management, it began feasibility studies in 2013 for for a pig farm in San Antonio de Areca, a province west of Buenos Aires. By mid-2015, it had a functioning farm there called Piggyland, tapping into the growing pork consumption in bovine-crazy Argentina.

Like the firm's beef business, the pig farming operations works in three areas: breeding and selling fresh meat, and serving its meat in the brand's own restaurant in the capital.

"We spotted a strategic opportunity."

Oscar Ratto, manager of Piggyland, said the firm's directors had no doubt there was a business to build around pork consumption. "We spotted a strategic opportunity in the pig business and in the consumption of fresh pork meat in Argentina," he recalled. "It was also a form of generating added value through consumption of more corn" that the firm grows elsewhere.

The firm serves its meat in the brand's own restaurant in the capital — Photo: Estancias y Cabaña Las Lilas

Ratto, who touts a degree in economics, has been working with the firm since 2003. In the first stage of the new pig-farming operation, the firm built 12 sheds on a 35-hectare plot, with some serving as slaughtering operations and others for maternity, weaning and genetic selection. The second phase of Piggyland is planned to begin in 2021 to more than double the breeding capacity. Sows generally give birth to 13 piglets on average, though Ratto says they need three years to reach their optimum reproductive state.

Meanwhile, as the business perfects its insemination and reproductive model, it has begun thinking about energy use. Las Lilas is set to complete work on four biodigestors to produce biogas and then electric power. Ratto says the aim is for the caloric energy needed for motherhood will then be "converted" into electricity for the entire farm. The aim is to be energy self-sufficient.

Piggyland is conceived as a multi-dimensional business model with fresh meat sales as its backbone. The firm is not worried about pressures in the local market to sell imported pork. "We produce meat for direct consumption, while the imported meat is frozen and ends up mixed into meat products. We are aiming at different markets. We believe our quality products and services will be a reference worldwide," says Ratto.

He points out the role of corn, a strategic cereal essential to much livestock farming. "We consume 4,000 tons a year on the farm, and bring them from fields the firm has in Pasteur, which is not far from San Antonio de Areco," says Ratto. "This in turn leads to 3,500 tons of pork meat, which we sell directly to customers."

Investment, technology, sustainability: these are the values on which the veteran firm is banking to expand in the age of high-tech farming.

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