Chile 2022- Agri Tour Blog

Chile 2022- Agri Tour Blog

Fourteen very tired young farmers arrived in Santa Cruz on Wednesday morning after an eventful overnight bus journey. The day had every potential of being a slow one, however we ended up creating the some of the best memories of the tour.

It is clear we have arrived in Chile’s wine region.

Having been in the country for 10 days, our learnings have been focused on agriculture, so studying the country’s culture in the broader term was welcome. The Museo de Colchagua gave us an insight into Chile’s history from prehistory up until the present, with impressive collections of precolumbian art, jewelry and tapestry. The history of Chile is complex and is deserving of their evident national patriotism.

Spain conquered and colonized the region in the mid-16th century, replacing Inca rule, but failing to conquer the independent Mapuche who inhabited what is now south-central Chile. In 1818, after declaring independence from Spain, Chile emerged in the 1830s as a relatively stable authoritarian republic. In the 19th century, Chile saw significant economic and territorial growth, ending Mapuche resistance in the 1880s and gaining its current northern territory in the War of the Pacific (1879–83) after defeating Peru and Bolivia. Some of the architecture is suggestive of German immigration post WW1 to the country. The highlight for many of the group were the exhibits relating to the Chilean miner rescue which occurred in 2010.

We then went on to one of the most anticipated tours of the trip, a vineyard. We are in the heart of the wine region of the Chile so it would be rude not to explore this sector of agriculture. At the Viña Santa Cruz we were able to explore the vineyards with an amazing view of the valley, with a cable car ride to the villages of some of the native people of Chile. Established in 2003 and making wine since 2005 in Colchagua, Viña Santa Cruz has over 160 hectares of vines which are mainly focused on red Bordeaux and Mediterranean varieties. The philosophy of the brand “Body and Soul” was evident from the owner and tour guide, Carlos Cardoen, a businessman who loves the land & its traditions. The wines are inspired by the rituals and cultures and people of the Mapuche, Aymara and Rapa Nui.
As the winery is relatively new, the cellar being 20 years old, there are high levels of technology, regulating temperature and humidity during the fermentation process and 10ha of drip irrigation. Most wineries in Chile use American oak barrels, however this boutique business prides itself in French oak barrels, producing 200k litres per year.
They grow different varieties of red grapes on this vineyard, including the Chilean native Carmenert. This area has summer temperatures which vary between 38°c during daytimes and 12°c at night, this fluctuation being perfect conditions for sugar production in the red grape.
The Merlot variety is the first to harvest in April, with the Carmenart being the last to mature. Each plant shows off different colours at harvest making the vineyards especially beautiful during this time.
Carlos also described his new business venture, 10ha of avocado plants, the green gold of Chile. He planted this in August and will realise its first return in three years. The winery only uses 25% of it’s 130ha to produce grapes, diversifying in other fruits for export. The avocados are destined to market in Japan, China and Europe.
Typically, wineries in Chile export around 80% of their product, this one only exporting 10% (5k bottles) to Germany and Belgium, which certainly pushed sales in the gift shop after the tour. Overall, Chile is within the top 5 in the world for exporting wine.

It is clear that Carlos has huge pride in his product, describing his favourite wine as his blood. His over-arching message: have passion, pride and love what you do.

Joanna Foubister

Day 12: Vineyard Tour and Dinner with UN Agricultural Consultant

After our last (rather big) night as a group altogether we woke up on Thursday morning one less as Hamish flew home to pipe at a wedding.

Today saw us take a 10-minute bus journey from our accommodation to the Montes Vineyard in Valle de Colchagua which was voted the best vineyard in the continent and top three in the world, with the others being from France and Argentina. This vineyard started in 1987, by Douglas Murray and Aurelio Montes and is now family owned by Aurelio and his son. We were greeted by our tour guide and wine expert Eric; we began outside with a Chilean flag blowing in the wind behind us.

Montes have various vineyards spread all over the wine regions of Chile covering a total of 1800 hectares to allow them to make a variety of wines very well. Each grape needs different specific conditions which gives each wine varying amounts of complexity and so dictates how long they can stay in the bottle. 95% of their product is exported to 110 countries with Asia being their biggest market, Brazil taking 15% and Europe only around 7/8%.

The grapes are harvested mostly by hand (70-90%) and only 10- 30% by machines, depending on the quality of wine you’re trying to achieve with hand picking being more selective. 2.5million litres per year of wine are produced in this vineyard with a total of 70million litres of wine in the whole company produced per year.

The main source of water comes from a small river that we crossed at the entrance, the Tinguiririca river. That is the only source of water for the vineyard here at the Colchagua valley. Montes vineyards have been using integrated management techniques in 100% of their vineyards since 2000. This includes the constant recording and monitoring of pests, diseases, natural enemies, and nutritional and water requirements to ensure the sustainable use of pesticides, fertilizers, and water. 60% of their vineyards retain a natural plant cover between the rows to decrease problems with erosion and soil compaction. This also encourages the proliferation of natural enemies of the pests that affect viticultural production. A new study is conducted every two years to analyse the condition of the nutrients in the soil. All of their vineyards are drip irrigated and highly efficient in their water use. After years of studies and using the latest technology, they have decreased water consumption by 25% in Marchigüe and 10% in Apalta— a savings equivalent to the amount of water used by 3,200 families each year. They make compost from the pomace (grape skins and seeds) produced during the harvest season and apply it in the vineyards to improve soil structure and reduce the use of inorganic fertilizers by 30%. They have also been using grazing animals—llamas and sheep—in the Marchigüe vineyards since 2010 to reduce the weeds. By 2013 there were 350 animals controlling 200 hectares of vineyards, which resulted in a 40% savings in the used of herbicides during the winter.

We continued our tour down into one of the barrel rooms, where the temperature is kept at 15 degrees Celsius at all times. Here we were met with song of Halo playing. Eric explained that one of the previous owners, Douglas Murray, really believed in the vibrations of the music and how these vibrations made the molecules move within the French oak barrels. This was tested out with water and different genres of music to begin with to see how these vibrations changed how the water crystallised into ice. Which made him believe this would work with the wines, so now this music plays 24/7 in all of the barrel rooms.

Here in this barrel room was what they call the Tayta. This is a wine that is only made when they have the perfect harvest, the last one was made in 2018 and the only person who knows what makes a perfect harvest is the wine maker. They say around 85% of the tayta is Cabernet Sauvignon and then the remaining 15% is the choice of the wine maker. One bottle of this costs around £250 and there are only around 3000 bottles per harvest, most of these are exported and only 100 bottles are left in Chile. This will last for 20 years in the bottle.

We had lunch at the vineyard where we were told to sip back and relax as we sat in the middle of the vines and were served a fine selection of food and wine. We then got back on the bus and travelled two hours north back to Santiago.

Once checked into our hotel in Santiago we went to go and meet a girl Sarah, who worked as an agricultural consultant for the UN, for some food and drinks – we had hoped to catch up with her earlier in the trip to visit her work, but the itinerary didn’t allow. Sarah is currently undertaking her PhD in cherries. It all comes down to size, colour, marketing information and she is trying to understand what percentage of each quality attribute is represented in the end price.

Sarah explained the UN’s role was to provide support for governments, in particular with a focus on implementing technologies in agricultural systems to deal with climate change and sustainable development goals in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. She was able to tell us that the Chilean government has some Incentives for younger people to get into agriculture mainly focused on innovative projects and sustainable farming.

Throughout our time in Chile we’ve noticed a lot of tolls on the roads, this is because all of the roads in Chile are owned privately.

With that we also noticed significantly less pot-holes! We’ve also noticed a lot of the rivers seem very brown and dirty looking, Sarah explained that this would be because ice on top of the mountains is melting as they are coming out of spring into summer, and so this appears brown to begin with because the ground has been dried up for so long.

We had hoped to gain some more information about the UN and Sarah’s work within it however it seems that the Chileans don’t talk about business outside of the business and that restaurants should be for drinking and eating only. It’s the laidback Chilean way.

Linsey Campbell

Day 13: Final Day: Avocados

Friday morning saw the group depart for one final day of visits, this time heading to the north of Santiago to Crisol Farm where we were met by co-founder, Marcella. The drive north took us through another change in landscape where the dry climate and desert is clear to see.

The farm benefits from a microclimate with the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Crisol Farm extends to 9ha with 7ha planted for Organic Avocado production and the remaining 2ha providing grazing for livestock, a lake for water retention and a small market garden area growing ground crops including onions and tomatoes for local people. In terms of scale, Crisol is a relatively small property with some avocado farms in the region extending to 1,000ha.

The trees are now 40years old on Crisol Farm and were converted to organic in 2007. On average, it is expected each tree will have a productive life span of approximately 80 years.

The farm has three main objectives –
– Biodiversity
– Integration with local community
– Self sufficiency

Marcella has plans for diversification across the farm with an intention to implement a processing and packing plant on site – at present, all fruit is processed off farm. She is also exploring opportunities for renewable energy across the property.

Throughout the trip, we have become increasingly aware of the pressures Chile faces with regards to water availability and climate change. Water in the northern part of the country is scarce, supplies are privatised, and domestic properties are fighting for the same supplies as large-scale industry and agriculture. Water rights have been held separately to the land in Chile since 1980 when government legislation separated these from farmland. The 15-year average rainfall in this area is around 200mm however in 2019, only 64mm of rainfall was recorded – this is less rain than fell in one day back in Scotland the Thursday before we departed!!

The avocado crop is in bloom from mid-October for around 6 weeks and for every 1,000 flowers, one fruit will be produced. Harvesting of the crop is carried out between September and March meaning two crops are growing at any one time. This can lead to management issues with the ripe fruit limiting the formation of new fruits. The trees are pruned in autumn and spring to encourage fresh growth.

Irrigation is critical from growing the crop with 1ha requiring an average of 8,000 litres of water per annum. The average yield of this organic crop is around 12 tonnes per hectare however a more conventional farm may achieve yields of up to 15 tonnes per hectare.
Organic farming allows the soils here to retain a higher level of moisture and leaf cover on the ground is a crucial part of this. The roots of an avocado tree are very superficial, and their depth does not support their demand for water. Irrigation is provided by a jet system at ground level and when required, organic fertilisers are also distributed via this system.

The farm employs 22 people full time with all crops harvested by hand with ladders and poles. The crop is sold through a variety of supermarkets, town markets and individual consumers.

The average shelf life of fruit from harvest to consumer is around 1 month. This allows a sufficient window for shipping to international markets, but any delay can be of significant cost to the producers. The fruit is stored at a temperature of 5c for transportation.
Current market average for an organic avocado sale is around 2,790 pesos per kilo which equates to around £2.79 per kilo. Organic produce benefits from a 20-30% market premium over conventional produce. All fruit produced at Crisol supplies a domestic market only. The optimum fruit for export is over 170g however the domestic market in Chile demands a smaller fruit of around 120g. Over 70% of the Avocados produced in Chile are exported internationally.

In advance of harvest, fruit is sampled by a lab to establish oil content. A fruit’s oil content should be over 9% at time of harvest with the later season fruits being well in excess of this level. Disease is also monitored with a contractor checking the crop on a monthly basis. When required, natural methods of disease control are adopted including the use of Lady Birds.

Fertiliser is produced naturally with animal manure, grass cuttings and food waste being composted and then mixed with water to create a tea. The farm also grows small number of bananas for diversification and water retention benefits. Being high in potassium is good for fertilisation of the soil and whilst these fruits are not sold commercially, they are edible when cooked.

A frost prevention system is in place which is powered by gas via a small turbine. It is hard to imagine a frost as we stand here in almost 30c but when required, this system can bring the air temperature up by 2c over an area of 5ha which is crucial for retention of the fruit.

Whilst we have enjoyed the opportunity to consume locally produced avocados here on a daily basis, we can see clearly the damage that mass production for the global market is starting to have on the local environment.

From Crisol Farm, we then travelled west through the coastal town of Vina del Mar to Valparaiso. Here, we enjoyed a beautiful seafood lunch with views over the town below before taking a funicular railway to the lower streets to witness the scale of the Port here. The number of containers waiting to be loaded and shipped was impressive to see following two weeks of discussing shipping and exportation. There was then time for a short walk around the town including some small-town markets where final souvenirs were purchased.

With a short de-tour for some beautiful coastal views, we were on our way back to Santiago for a final supper before our long flight home on Saturday afternoon.

Rosanna Fraser