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Argentina Soybean Plant Fire Underscores Growing Frustrations

In an act reflecting the frustration bubbling under the surface in South America, a soybean processing facility was set alight Tuesday night, another incident in a week that's seen transportation infrastructure grind to a halt around Brazil and Argentina, where millions of bushels of corn and soybeans await movement onto the export market.

Reports indicate that approximately 1,500 trucks were in line waiting to unload grain at the Louis Dreyfus Commodities soybean processing plant in the town of Santa Fe General Lagos, just southeast of Rosario, the large port on the Parana River where dockworkers and boat captains announced this week they'll go on strike in a wage dispute. The town is just over 170 miles northwest of the city of Buenos Aires.

A report on the Argentine news site Infobae.com shows the fire was discovered Tuesday evening. Firefighters were delayed by trucker protests on the site, as well as "assailants, some of them hooded" who inflicted significant damage to the plant's quality control office and burned vehicles and processing equipment on site. Reports indicate it could be a month before the plant's full capabilities are restored, though company officials tell the House of the Oil Industry of the Republic Argentina (CIARA) that some unloading capacity was restored shortly after the fire was extinguished. The facility can normally unload between 800 and 1,200 trucks each day, reports show.

"As reported from the attacked company yesterday, unknown attackers, some of them hooded, burned buildings including those used for assessing the quality of beans and more than a dozen cars, damaging several more. Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported due to the rapid intervention firefighters and police, who prevented the situation from becoming a tragedy of unforeseeable proportions," according to a translated statement from CIARA.

The fire underscores the tensions growing in the South American nation as farmers there and in neighboring Brazil face mounting delays from striking transportation workers and those workers themselves.

"Both Brazil and Argentina are living under recession and inflation together, and that usually means unrest," says Luis Vieira, an Agriculture.com correspondent based in Brazil. The fire comes on top of a strike announced earlier this week at the port of Rosario, Argentina. There, dockworkers and boat captains are protesting wages. If sustained, the strike could have major implications for the movement of grain from that nation similar to the truckers' strike effects on Brazilian corn and soybean transportation.

The fire and strikes in Brazil and Argentina come at a particularly bad time for the soybean industry in that part of the world; harvest remains in its late stages there, and the crop this year is massive. That makes even the slightest transportation hiccup a big deal, let alone one affecting some of the biggest parts of the transportation infrastructure in the two largest grain-producing nations in South America.

"Things are very, very stressful, adding that the crop is huge. Luckily, it rained yesterday in many areas, so farmers are not loading trucks. We expect some more rain on Saturday. But April, logistically, was a terrible month, trucks everywhere. The soybean crop was earlier than normal, and we've had 25 days without any rain. Moreover, the crop is a record; many farmers are harvesting 15% to 20% more than expected," Pablo Fraga, a market analyst at BLD, a consultancy from Rosario, Argentina, tells Agriculture.com. "If you want to sell beans today, you have one price. But, if you can deliver it in 20 days, the price is much better. The crushers don’t want more beans now because they don’t have physical space to store it.”

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