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Ayerza, R. (h) and W. Coates. 1996. New industrial crops: Northwestern Argentina Regional Project. p. 45-51. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

New Industrial Crops: Northwestern Argentina Regional Project

Ricardo Ayerza (h) and Wayne Coates

    1. Ecosystems
    2. Education and Information Exchange
    1. Chan (Hyptis suaveolens, Labiatae)
    2. Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus, Malvaceae)
    3. Vernonia (Vernonia galamensis, Asteraceae)
    4. Guayule (Parthenium argentatum Gray, Asteraceae)
    5. Jojoba [Simmondsia chinensis (Link) Schneid., Simmondsiaceae]
    6. Lesquerella (Lesquerella fendleri, Brassicaceae)
    7. Chia (Salvia hispanica, Labiatae)
  5. Table 1
  6. Table 2
  7. Table 3
  8. Table 4
  9. Table 5
  10. Table 6
  11. Table 7

The goal of the Northwestern Argentina Regional Project is to identify and bring into commercial production new industrial crops which can help diversify agricultural production and increase profits for farmers in northwestern Argentina. Both private and government organizations in the United States and Argentina have been working cooperatively on this project since its inception.

The project started in 1991 with an agreement between Partners of the Americas Inc., a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC, and Agropecuaria El Valle S.A., an agricultural enterprise with offices in Buenos Aires and Catamarca, Argentina. This technical cooperation was made possible through the Farmer to Farmer program, financed by the Congress of the United States as a part of the 1990-95 Farm Bill (Public Law 480), and the Agency for International Development (USAID).

Subsequently, The University of Arizona, the University of California, the National University of Catamarca, the Rural Group Pulares, and the government of the province of Salta joined the project. In 1995 four grower organizations from the province of Jujuy also joined. These are CREA Los Lapachos, Union Caneros Independientes de Jujuy and Salta, Cooperativa de Tabacaleros de Jujuy, and La Camara del Tabaco de Jujuy.


The development of any new crop goes through four distinct phases: (1) market assessment; (2) identification of the most appropriate species; (3) domestication of the species; (4) commercial production.

Growers, processors and marketing agencies must be involved and share the risks in all four phases of this development process for it to be the most effective. Under these conditions all of the involved parties are unified through contracts, a common information base, and personal involvement. Because this concept of widespread involvement and responsibility is an integral part of the Northwestern Argentina Regional project, the growers, processors and marketing agencies have all assumed a degree of the cost, and hence risk, with it.


Northwestern Argentina consists of five provinces: Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman, Santiago del Estero, and Catamarca. The region can be divided into three general ecosystems which run parallel to each other in a north and south direction. The eastern most ecosystem is called Chaco, and is a wide plateau approximately 300 to 700 m in elevation. The climate is warm and dry, and naturally supports an open woodland ecosystem. Directly to the west is a long sloping region which rises from 200 to 4000 m in elevation, over a distance of 50 to 100 km. This center ecosystem is called the Yungas, is frost free in most years, and receives more than 1200 mm of rainfall annually. This area is suitable for tropical fruit production. The western ecosystem is a high plateau called Puna, and is at an elevation of 4000 m or more. It is a cold and dry grassland, having no naturally occurring tree species.

The work reported in this manuscript took place in the Yungas and Chaco ecosystems, within the provinces of Catamarca, Jujuy, Salta, and Tucuman. The project began in 1991 and is planned for continuation at least through 1996, with the objective being to evaluate potential industrial crops and then bring them into production. Ancillary objectives are to bring about a better public understanding of how new crops can improve the economic situation in northwestern Argentina, and to promote closer cooperation between northwestern Argentina and the southwestern United States.

Education and Information Exchange

Establishing research plots, providing on-farm technical advice, and conducting workshops, conferences, and seminars for growers, university faculty, and technical personnel have all been part of the program. During 1995 alone, 12 different topics were presented in a series of workshops, conferences, and seminars held at various locations in northwestern Argentina.

Seventeen scientists, growers and company managers have been brought from the U.S. to Argentina to provide technical assistance. Areas of expertise have included agronomy, genetics, plant physiology, mechanization, processing, economics, and marketing.

Nineteen professors from the National University of Catamarca and three from the University of La Rioja travelled to the U.S. for specialized training programs lasting from 2 to 3 months. The time was spent at either the University of Arizona, or the University of California. In 1994, two members of a women's agricultural cooperative from Catamarca participated in the exchange program and spent time in California, Arizona and Northern Mexico, where they were able to exchange ideas on new crop production with growers and researchers.


The research plots, as well as the demonstration plantings, have been located on private farms, thus directly involving the farming public in the project. The tests have been conducted in the four provinces of Catamarca, Jujuy, Salta, and Tucuman, (Table 1) providing wide public exposure to the project.

Through the trials, six species have been identified which appear to hold significant potential for the region. These are: chia, lesquerella, vernonia, and chan which are sources of industrial oil; guayule, a source of rubber, resins, and latex; and kenaf, a raw material for paper and newsprint. Of these crops, only lesquerella and chia have been grown commercially. For the others, trials are continuing to evaluate cultivars and/or sites in order to identify those crops and locations which hold the greatest commercial potential for northwestern Argentina. Some of the results are presented here.

Chan (Hyptis suaveolens, Labiatae)

This plant is native to southern Mexico and Central America, and was used as a food by pre-columbian people in the region. The seed contain 77%-80% linoleic acid, and little or no linolenic acid. Yields in Argentina have reached 1770 kg/ha (Coates and Ayerza 1995). The data in Table 2 summarize the results obtained from four-row plots which were harvested in June 1995. No statistically significant difference between sites, either in terms of total biomass or amount of seed harvested, was detected. This tends to indicate that either site would be equally suited for growing chan. Table 2 also shows that total oil content as well as percent alpha-linoleic fatty acid in the seed were similar at both locations. This also indicates that either site would prove equally suitable for growing chan.

The total oil yield is very low compared to other commercially grown oil seed crops. Because this is a new crop, it is necessary to conduct further tests and examine the analysis techniques which were used in the laboratory to determine oil quantity and distribution. Environmental factors which might have affected the results also need to be investigated before a sound conclusion can be drawn regarding the quantity and quality of oil contained in the seed.

Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus, Malvaceae)

Kenaf, a native of tropical Africa, is a fast-growing annual which is grown for its fiber. It can reach heights of 4 to 6 m in one growing season, and has yielded up to 17.5 t/ha of dry matter in Argentina (Ayerza and Cook 1996). Table 3 presents results from a series of kenaf trials that were conducted over a number of years, at five sites. Sumalao and Pichanal were both irrigated, while the other sites were not. Dry matter yields ranged from 4.3 to 13.3 t/ha, with the yields being quite variable. Yields have been influenced by both location and climate. One cultivar has not proven superior to the others at all locations, indicating that site influences are significant and will need to be taken into account when selecting cultivars for commercial production. These tests clearly indicate the need for additional cultivar and location trials, and consequently these are underway.

Kenaf was first planted in Argentina on a commercial scale in late 1995. Plans called for planting 25 ha using three cultivars, with the idea being to use the plantings not only to determine the production potential of the three cultivars which had demonstrated the best performance in the plots, but also to evaluate alternative harvesting technologies and determine which might be the most appropriate for the region. After harvest, the material was to be sent to a commercial operation to be pulped, and was then to be blended with bagasse pulp and made into paper. Unfortunately early 1996 was one of the driest summers on record in northwestern Argentina, and the extended trial had to be abandoned. As a consequence only two hectares were sown. Plans still call for this field to be used to test alternative harvesting methodologies, although in a more limited scale. Pulping will take place provided that a commercial entity can be located that is willing to work with a limited amount of material.

Vernonia (Vernonia galamensis, Asteraceae)

Vernonia, a member of the sunflower family, is native to tropical Africa. Its seed contain an unusual oil which, because of its low viscosity, can be used as a solvent in paint. Over 70 other potential uses for the oil have been identified. Table 4 presents the results from the vernonia trials conducted in 1995 at Pichanal and Yuto. At Pichanal significant differences in seed yield were detected among the cultivars, with more than a ten fold difference being found between the most and least productive. No statistically significant differences in 1000 seed weight were detected, and some cultivars had significantly lower oil content than others. As insufficient seed was available to plant a replicated trial at Yuto, only one block was sown. As a consequence only mean seed yields are presented in Table 4, and no statistical analysis of the data was conducted. The mean values, however, indicate that this site may be the best of the two for growing vernonia.

In general the vernonia yields are low, on a per hectare basis, as compared to other oilseed crops. The values were determined for rows planted 1 m on center. This spacing conforms to USDA test plots, and allows comparison with their data. In a commercial situation, row spacing would be on the order of 150-200 mm, significantly increasing yields. Pest and disease problems at both sites also decreased yield.

Guayule (Parthenium argentatum Gray, Asteraceae)

Guayule, a plant native to the Chihuahuan desert of Mexico, produces rubber that is almost identical to that from the rubber tree. It also produces several co-products, including resins, low-molecular weight rubber, and bagasse, each of which have potential uses. The rubber (or latex) from guayule can be used where synthetic materials are not satisfactory. Table 5 presents the analysis which was conducted on two year old guayule harvested in Catamarca in 1995. Significant differences in biomass yields were detected among varieties, however no differences in rubber yield were found on a dry matter basis. When the biomass yields are combined with the rubber content, rubber production ranged from 17 to 60 g per plant. Thus although percentage of rubber in a plant can influence processing costs, total rubber production on an area basis would probably be the governing factor used to select the best varieties.

Results of this study show that additional trials are required to determine not only the highest producing varieties, but also to assess yields as influenced by time of harvest. Plans call for these tests to be undertaken starting in June 1996.

Jojoba [Simmondsia chinensis (Link) Schneid., Simmondsiaceae]

Jojoba, which is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, produces seeds which contain a liquid wax that has uses in the cosmetic industry, and it also serves as high quality lubricant. Jojoba has been grown commercially for a number of years in La Rioja and Catamarca provinces. The development of equipment to mechanize its production has been an integral part of the Northwestern Argentina Regional Project. Equipment has already been developed for transplanting cuttings, pruning the plants, and preparing the soil surface for harvest. A new type of jojoba harvester is under development, with a prototype having been built and tested.

Lesquerella (Lesquerella fendleri, Brassicaceae)

Lesquerella is an annual plant native to the southwestern United States. The seed of lesquerella contain an unusual fatty acid which is similar to that of castor bean. This fatty acid can be converted to many products which have both industrial and cosmetic potential. The meal remaining after the oil is removed contains a good amino acid balance, and can be used in livestock feed.

Chia (Salvia hispanica, Labiatae)

Like chan, chia is native to southern Mexico and has been used by pre-columbian inhabitants of Central America as a food source and a medicine. Oil from chia was also used in paints. The seed contain the highest known natural source of linolenic acid (60%), with linolenic acid having many uses in industry and cosmetics. The meal remaining after the oil is expressed is high in protein and fiber, and can be used for human and animal food. Seed yields in plots of up to 1602 kg/ha, and oil contents as high as 38.6% have been reported in Argentine trials (Ayerza, 1995).

Chia and lesquerella have been commercially produced in the provinces of Catamarca, Salta, and Tucuman. The seed produced has been exported to the United States, with contracts for its production being signed between the growers and commercial enterprises from Argentina and the U.S. Table 6 lists the sites and number of growers that have been involved in the commercial production of these crops.

From Table 6 it can be seen that the number of farms and growers involved in the production of chia and lesquerella on a commercial basis has varied. The reasons for this have been the degree of success realized by each grower, and the level of satisfaction arising from being involved with the introduction of a new crop.

The commercial yields of both chia and lesquerella have varied from year to year, and from location to location. This is due to a number of factors including cultural practices, climate, weed infestations and harvesting techniques used. Cultural practices purposely have not been standardized across farms, as it is the intent of the project to allow farmers to use those cultural practices with which they are familiar to grow the new crops, while providing them with overall guidance as to how best to produce each crop.

Analyses of the chia seed which was commercially harvested in 1995 showed viability to range from 78% to 87%. Purity ranged from 84% to 97.5%. This is considered excellent, especially given the small size of the seed and the difficulties which were encountered with the harvesting and cleaning processes. These data demonstrate that chia can be commercially produced in northwestern Argentina.

Table 7 provides a comparison of the returns that can be realized from chia production, as compared to two traditional crops found in the region. The higher returns from chia have in large part prompted a significant increase in acreage planted in 1996.


Over-production of traditional crops continues worldwide. It is therefore likely that prices and profit margins for these will remain very low, except when shortages arise because of war or climatic disasters. Furthermore, the consumption of many non-renewable resources continues, and environmental policies are already beginning to favor markets for many new industrial crops.

The success of the program is clearly demonstrated by the increasing numbers of hectares of chia being grown in northwestern Argentina. It is anticipated that this trend will continue and that the same thing will occur for lesquerella and kenaf. Such success is possible because the program is dynamic. Many organizations and growers are already a part of this project and they expect to take advantage of the conditions which exist to benefit their own enterprises. Others in the community benefit as a result of improved economics. The dynamic, open nature of the Northwest Argentina Regional Project means that other organizations and growers interested in the benefits of new industrial crops, including diversification of their cropping practices, are welcome to join the program at any time.


Table 1. Locations where the new industrial crops have been evaluated or commercially grown.

Location Province South latitude Elevation (m) Rainfall (mm)
C. de Valle Catamarca 28° 36' 454 437
Sumalao Catamarca 28° 28' 546 394
Perico Jujuy 24° 23' 936 600
Yuto Jujuy 23° 35' 349 802
Chiocoana Salta 25° 06' 1270 715
El Carril Salta 25° 03' 1069 624
Metan Salta 25° 30' 858 841
Pichanal Salta 23° 17' 300 618
Pulares Salta 25° 04' 1240 825
Guemes Salta 24° 40' 734 507
Alberdi Tucuman 27° 36' 369 1092

Table 2. Biomass, seed yield, oil content and composition of chan seed as affected by location.

Location Biomass (kg/ha) Seed (kg/ha) Total oil (%) Palmitic (%) Palmitoleic (%) Stearic (%) Oleic (%) Linoleic (%) Linolenic (%)
Pichanal 2188az 638a 11 8.4 0.0 2.5 7.8 81.9 0.4
Yuto 2125a 725a 12 8.9 0.0 1.8 8.6 80.4 0.3
zMean separation in columns by Ryan-Einot-Gabriel-Welsch multiple range test, 5% level.

Table 3. Production of kenaf at five locations in northwestern Argentina.

Location (no. of years)
Cultivar Sumalaoz (t/ha) Alberdi (t/ha) Metan (t/ha) Yutoy (t/ha) Pichanalz
Tainung 2 13.3 (3 yr) 9.4 (2 yr) 7.7 (2 yr) 11.3 (1 yr) 6.0 (2 yr)
Cubano 10.9 (3 yr) 7.1 (2 yr) 7.2 (2 yr) 7.7 (1 yr) 5.9 (2 yr)
Cuba 108 10.0 (3 yr) 11.4 (1 yr) 6.9 (1 yr) -- 4.3 (1 yr)
Tainung 1 9.9 (3 yr) 6.8 (2 yr) 7.4 (2 yr) 8.4 (1 yr) 4.9 (2 yr)
15-2 9.5 (3 yr) 7.2 (1 yr) 9.8 (1 yr) -- 8.0 (1 yr)
Everglades 41 8.9 (3 yr) 8.28 (2 yr) 7.3 (2 yr) 9.8 (1 yr) 5.6 (2 yr)
SF 45-9 8.9 (3 yr) 6.4 (2 yr) 7.5 (2 yr) 10.6 (1 yr) 8.4 (2 yr)
Everglades 71 8.3 (3 yr) 7.5 (2 yr) 8.1 (2 yr) 10.4 (1 yr) 7.3 (2 yr)
SF-192 -- 8.2 (2 yr) 8.2 (2 yr) 7.5 (1 yr) 7.7 (2 yr)
N-7 -- 7.0 (2 yr) 5.6 (2 yr) 8.4 (1 yr) 5.2 (2 yr)
19-117-2 10.9 (2 yr) -- -- -- --
Guatemala 51 11.6 (2 yr) -- -- -- --
78-18 RS 10 7.8 (2 yr) -- -- -- --
yTwo sites

Table 4. Yield of vernonia grown at Pichanal and Yuto.

Pichanal Yuto
Cultivar Seed yield (kg/ha) Oil (%) 1000 seed wt (g) Seed yield (kg/ha)
29E-OR2-14 229az 43.8a 3.23a 457
35A-2-9 188ab 42.0a 3.19a 186
72A-1-2 158abc 42.6a 3.17a 257
48A-10 154abc 41.9a 3.17a 143
66C-1-9 139abcd 41.3ab 3.62a 193
15D-10-12 128abcd 41.2ab 3.68a 150
A0399 100bcd 42.7a 3.22a 186
14D-2-5 82bcd 43.2a 3.18a 157
AO382 81bcd 41.0ab 3.32a NAy
35A-2-10 37d 36.6bc 3.12a 150
zMean separation in columns by Ryan-Einot-Gabriel-Welsch multiple range test, 5% level.
yNot available; did not mature sufficiently prior to frost to permit harvesting.

Table 5. Guayule biomass and rubber content found in two year old plants grown in Catamarca.

Line Biomass (g/plant) Rubber content (%)
AZR1 1103az 6.1a
O16-1 401b 8.8a
AZ-R2 368bc 8.0a
N9-5 337bcd 5.8a
N6-5 301cd 10.6a
P3-1 273d 14.1a
O16-3 268d 12.8a
AZ-R3 171e 11.0a
zMean separation in columns by Ryan-Einot-Gabriel-Welsch multiple range test, 5% level.

Table 6. Number of growers and area commercially sown to chia and lesquerella in Northwestern Argentina.

Year Location Province Growers
1992 C. del Valle Catamarca 1 14 14 14
1993 C. del Valle Catamarca 1 70 70
Alberdi Tucuman 1 4 4 74
1994 C. del Valle Catamarca 2 3 1.5
Sumalao Catamarca 1 20 20
Alberdi Tucuman 1 5 5
V. de Lermaz Salta 1 3 3 31
1995 C. del Valle Catamarca 2 3 1.5
Alberdi Tucuman 1 5 5
V. de Lerma Salta 5 40 8
Metan Salta 1 10 10 58
1996 V. de Lerma Salta 6 120 20
Guemes Salta 1 5 5
Perico Jujuy 2 20 10 145
1992 C. del Valle Catamarca 1 12 12 12
1993 C. del Valle Catamarca 1 2 2 2
1994 Sumalao Catamarca 1 1 1 1
1995 Pulares Salta 4 20 5 20
zValle de Lerma: Includes Pulares, Chiocoana and El Carril

Table 7. Economic comparison of chia production to black and white bean production.

Crop Yield (kg/ha) Price ($/t) Gross
Chia 1,000 800 800 220 580
Black beans 1,500 400 600 320 280
White beans 1,100 700 700 380 390

Last update June 2, 1997 aw