7 AM. It is quite possible that a few students were less than excited to leave for our second excursion, but the Mercado de Liniers, or Argentina’s central cattle market, was a unique experience. The first note that I scribbled down was the number 5,000, which is the how many cows are typically sent to the market and sold in a single day. Then I quickly followed the group forward with interest. I don’t think anyone was exactly sure of what to expect.
There were a lot of cows of course,
but they were all crowded into very small rectangular spaces and all marked with paint on their backs and tags or stickers on their ears. The system is certainly organized, and very loud bell began to ring for what felt like an extremely long time. This marked the beginning of the auction. The buyers followed the auctioneer from box to box, where he gave a brief description of the cattle, which most importantly included the average weight. He touched the metal fence when the group was sold, and even though I can’t understand much Spanish, he seemed to make the process enjoyable by cracking jokes and spreading laughter.
Historically, the market sold a variety of animals (including sheep), but it currently is used only for the trade of cattle from the farmers to the slaughterhouses. We learned that this is unique, not only in Argentina, but in the entire world, because most farmers would prefer to sell their products directly.
Mercado de Liniers uses an comprehensive online system for tracking sales and prices; the market can be followed anywhere or anytime (http://www.mercadodeliniers.com.ar/). There are many economic factors I would have never expected to go into a process such as this, but I certainly knew ahead of time that beef was an important aspect of Argentina’s culture. However, I was shocked to learn that supply of cattle is actually relatively low--and so the price is rather high. Farmers are no longer interested in beef; they want to make a profit and turn to soybeans instead. I personally hope for the sake of Argentina that this issue is resolved soon--I have never tasted a better steak than the one I ate on my first night in Buenos Aires!