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Day 9 : Potatoes

Unrelated to any memes associated online, for our first visit today, the class went to Universidad Austral de Chile to learn about Potato Genbank and Germplasm.

So far, we have covered more than 500 miles since we arrived in Chile and the region that we are on today (Valdivia) is considered the river region. It received 2800ml of rain per year and has many rivers in its surrounding.

Dr. Anita Behn is in charge of the potato program in the university and she started off by stating the goal of the program; to preserve the genetic diversity of the solanum spp. To reach her goal, she showed us the mind map that she uses for the potato breeding program. The mind map include collection, preservation, maintenance, breeding and data recording, and analysis. Currently her research is done with germplasm collection and are now preserving and maintaining the potatoes that she collected. She planted the potatoes in the field to have fresh seeds and also maintain them in tissue culture, in case if anything happens to the plants in the field. Now she is focusing her research on the breeding objectives which are to improve resistance to nematode, Potato Virus Y (PVY), Potato Virus X (PVX) and also the polygenic resistance to the late blight disease.

In addition to breeding potatoes for disease resistance, Dr. Behn is also working on breeding potatoes to meet the demand of consumers. She wants to breed potato varieties that will be great for specific use like one variety is great for mash potato while another variety will be great for producing bake potatoes. She mentioned that she is breeding the potato varieties only to satisfy the commercial demands and not local demand as Chileans do not have a ‘potato culture’. Potatoes here are seen as multi-purpose and no variety is used for specific recipe. It might take time for Chilean to adapt to use specific potato variety for specific recipe.

The second visit for today was the milking parlour next door and I will not elaborate on that as Casey’s post covered it extensively. You can read more about it here.

As for our third location before our picnic lunch, we visited a cut flower nursery. I feel writing about the place will not do it justice so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Cut flowers sprayed and stored in the cooler ready for shipment.

Swimming in flowers.

Chile national flower!
Lapageria rosea

Sorry for the late upload everyone! I wanted to include the pictures in my post.


We’re SAG to Leave Chile

After an eventful ten days in Chile, our trip has come to a conclusion. Though we spent the majority of our last day unconscious on the bus, we had one last destination before our departure: SAG. The Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero offered us insight on the export and import of agricultural and horticultural products. First driving at the SAG facility for Santiago’s airport, we met Olga, the woman in charge of the operation. She oversees the inspection of both imported and exported agricultural and horticultural products. Of most importance for SAG is the abundance of imported flowers that come into Chile from Ecuador and Columbia. Olga introduced us to Munoz Sanchez, one of the inspectors in the facility. He showed us the process that imported flowers must pass through before they are approved for sale within the country.

For cut flowers, and plant products as a whole, there are two major insect pests that SAG pays particular attention for. These are thrips and liriomyza. Thrips palmi is a winged insect that feeds off of flowers, and can sometimes transmit diseases. Liriomyza is a leaf miner. As an additional note, products are prohibited from entering the country with soil. For any product being imported, strict rules and regulations must be followed. Products must enter the country accompanied by a declaration stating it is free of insects. After this document is presented, it is checked to make sure that it matches the product (Step one, photo one). If it is incorrect, SAG will not go on to manually check the shipment. If the documents are correct, 2% of the total load is manually checked for insects and diseases in the facility. Inspectors begin by unpacking the boxes and checking each product by eye. Sanchez demonstrated a more in depth method of looking for thrips by smacking the flowers to loosen any debris (Step two, photos two and three). Against a white table with a white light from above, the thrips become much more visible. In most flowers, leaves are removed, as a safeguard against any thrips that usually reside within. If thrips or leaf mites are found in the product, at any stage of growth, it cannot enter the country.  The complete load is burned on site. Besides from cut flowers, 100% of all propagated material entering Chile is also manually checked by SAG.

1: Mr. Sanchez checking the shipping label with his document

2: Inspecting Baby’s Breath for Thrips

3: Hitting the cut flowers to loosen any Thrips

If other insects, besides thrips and leaf mites, are found, a different set of procedures must be followed. If something is found, an entomologist is consulted to determine what the insect is. The facility has its own lab to study and identify the insect, complete with a collection of insects that have been found in products over the past 15 or 20 years (Photo 4). Depending on the severity of the insect, referred to as a hitchhiker, the load may be allowed to be fumigated and enter the country, or the load may be burned. SAG uses only one spray to fumigate loads with hitchhiker insects. Considering all imports from Ecuador, only 5-10% of all products are rejected from entering Chile. As Ecuador is the number one producer of cut roses in the Western Hemisphere, it essential for their export market that their goods be free of all insects and diseases. As thrips is not present in Chile at this time, it is no wonder that SAG is so strict with incoming agricultural and horticultural products.

4: SAG’s entomology lab for identifying hitchhiker insects

Fruits and vegetables entering the country have more requirements to be met than cut flowers do. Plants must be imported with bare roots, or grown in some sort of medium, as soil is strictly prohibited. Plants are checked for nematodes, and microscopically inspected by certain staff.

The process for exporting such goods is similar to that already discussed above. The site that we visited is the oldest SAG export facility in the country. It began 33 years ago, checking exported asparagus and raspberries. Again, 2% of a load to be exported is checked by SAG agronomists. At times, inspectors from the USDA may reside in Chile for spells of 2-3 months in order to work in the facilities. Exported agricultural and horticultural products are checked for insects that are prohibited or do not exist already in the country of import. For the US alone, an extensive list of prohibited insects exists. Products are inspected both internally and externally. For example, if an apple shows signs of a hole made by an insect, it will be cut open and inspected. SAG also uses a systems approach for inspecting fruits and vegetables. From each box in a load, 20 products are sampled and watched for insect presence. If an insect is found, it must be identified and then the load must either be burned or fumigated depending on the situation.

The export of goods is unique in the sense that allows for two different methods for SAG to check the loads.  In a direct sample, the products are checked as usual at the SAG facility, as already outlined. However, producers are also offered the option of remote sampling. With this, the producers make an appointment with SAG online for inspectors to come directly to the site of production. At the facility, inspectors will check 2% of the total shipment. This option allows the producer to save the energy and fuel transporting the entire load to the SAG facility. This method only takes about four or five hours, and then the goods are able to be shipped directly from the plant facility. This is most often used for products transported via maritime shipment.

All in all, our visit to SAG proved to be very insightful. After touring so many farms and production related enterprises, this stop allowed us to gain knowledge of what happens to Chilean products leaving the country. As we in the US import many agricultural and horticultural products from Chile, it was worthwhile to learn the extensive processes and regulations that allow us access to these goods.


Valdivia to Los Angeles: Fish Market and Monkey Puzzle

The morning began with overcast skies, a slight drizzle, and a near disaster involving underwear as we once again boarded the magic school bus on our way north out of Valdivia. But before we said goodbye, we decided that we had to stop at the local Valdivian open-air fish and produce market, where merchants stay busy preparing, displaying, and selling freshly caught fish and seafood, as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables. Immediately after stepping off the bus, the smell of seafood permeated the air as we approached this busy, bustling, and bountifully bedazzling bazaar. Upon entering the market we became surrounded by an assemblage of fishermen skillfully sharpening their knives and artfully presenting their most recent catch, a host of farmers who tossed and stacked their produce in heaps of colorful arrangements, and a cohort of Chilean merchants yelling and speaking with a rapidity that made their words nearly incomprehensible to a non-native ear. With a backdrop of the ocean teeming with prowling seagulls and vultures and a few lazy sea lions, we strolled through the lively atmosphere and absorbed the essence of this cultural experience. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we made sure to come away with an ample supply of booty, which included fresh cherries, smoked salmon, and locally made Chilean breads to supplement our lunch later this afternoon. 

A woman preparing seafood

Fruit and vegetable assortments

Some lounging sea lions

Some of the fresh fish at the market

After a few hours of driving north, we had arrived at our destination for the day: La Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello Nalcas – a national park in central Chile with a large natural population of the endemic Monkey Puzzle Tree, Araucaria araucana. But before seeking out this puzzling tree and protected forest, we once again prepared a picnic style lunch of deli meats and cheeses, smoked salmon, and assorted fruits and vegetables to fuel our adventures. The weather here was breezy and sunny, and made for perfect lounging and relaxing conditions as we enjoyed our lunch and took in the scenery. But soon enough we felt restless from driving and anxious to move our bodies and explore the nearby forests. 

An afternoon feast

Lounging in the sun after lunch




When we arrived at the trailhead we found that the gate to the trail was unfortunately locked, but luckily our fearless leaders were there to show us that we shouldn’t be deterred by this surmountable barrier! So we all conquered the fence and strolled freely though a comfortable forest consisting of Araucaria, other endemic Chilean flora, as well as some other familiar herbs and shrubs. The first thing we noticed as we made our way up the trail, was the 9,400 foot tall Lonquimay Volcano, which loomed ominously in the background with its snowy slopes and swarming clouds. This is an active volcano that last erupted in 1988-1990 in a 13-month eruption, after a 100-year dormancy period. As we continued to explore, we were then able to see the Araucaria up close and in its natural environment. It was surprising to see how large this tree can get, as well as how common it is in the forest. Trees were scattered consistently throughout our walk, and some had reached a size of nearly 4-feet in diameter. These enormous trees stood out distinctly in a landscape that otherwise seemed familiar to something from North America.


Lonquimay Volcano

Mark and Betsy, leading the charge

Araucaria trees, covered in lichens

Male cones



Araucaria araucauna is not only endemic to Chile, but it is also the country’s national tree. Its leaf structure and growth habit are very unique and make it an interesting sight to virgin eyes. The name Monkey Puzzle Tree came about because someone once decided that a monkey would be completely puzzled with the task of ascending this unforgiving creature. However, this common name is of English origin, and doesn’t translate to local Chileans.

Growth habit 

Stem and leaves

Spiny leaves

Along with several sightings of Araucaria, we also saw many other instances of interesting floral diversity. Many plants were native to Chile, including: Baccharis, Gaultheria, Calceolaria, Berberis, Nothofagus, Alstroemeria, and Haplopappus species; while many other plants were familiar to us, and may have represented invasive weeds like: Lupinus, Lotus, Taraxacum, Verbascum, Achillea, Rosa, Geranium, Oxalis, and Trifolium species.


Alstroemeria sp.

Lupinus sp.

Nothofagus sp.

Calceolaria sp.

Near the end of the walk though this beautiful landscape, we were all treated to an unexpected gift: a large waterfall cascading into a chilly creek – the perfect end to a walk full of some much needed sun and plant biodiversity exposure. We took this opportunity to cool off and relax together as we reflected on the last several days of our Chilean adventures. Because after this, it was back to the bus and onward to Los Angeles, the location of our final night in Chile.

Enjoying the falling water


It’s Jorge Appreciation Day!

The morning air of Valdivia struck a bit cooler than days past, and a slight nostalgia washed over the group as we realized our South American trip was coming to a close. The past week has been an amazing, albeit quick, tour of Chilean culture and biodiversity, and to think that we’ll be home in snowy New York in just a few days weighed heavily on our minds.

But, then we got on the bus.


The bus has become a staple in our journey across Chilean latitudes; the bonds established on the bus, even if they emerge from the insanity of a five hour drive to Valdivia, have established a group camaraderie and trust that has been invaluable as we discover new foods, new words, and new worlds. That trust, however, would not have been established without the freedom of the road and our trust in one man: Jorge Francisco Araya (aka: our bus driver).


We’ve collectively declared today “Jorge Appreciation Day,” in hopes that we might pay homage to the person responsible for our safe travels. Jorge is a native of Santiago, Chile and has been driving since he was 18 years old. In a brief written interview (thanks to Google translate and knowledgable Spanish speakers in the group), we learned that he values his family above all else, loves a good cazuela, and hopes to one day visit the US or Mexico. When asked his thoughts on Chilean agriculture, he responded that there should be more agricultural education so that people “learn to love the land and not destroy the fields.”

Despite our crazy bus antics and occasional outburst into song, Jorge seems to like the group: “In the short time we have known each other, I think you are all good people who display humility.” Knowing we have an experienced, trustworthy individual at the wheel (literally) makes us feel safe. Further, knowing that he appreciates our goal of understanding and promoting biodiversity just adds to the ambiance of camaraderie. He also happens to be super good at ping pong, so that’s a plus.

Here’s to you Jorge – Happy Jorge Appreciation Day! Thanks for keeping us safe and I the path to learning more about Chilean biodiversity!

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Dr. Pablo Grau, Cornell alumnus 1992

Dr. Pablo Grau, Cornell grad 1993

INIA apple breeding in Chillan

It’s Dairy Day in Chile!! (Chee-lay!!)

Hello everyone from home!!

My name is Casey Porter, I grew up on a dairy farm in Northern New York, and I have been asking for this day for months! I am studying Animal Science with a focus on Dairy Production and Management at Cornell, so naturally, I was very interested in visiting a dairy farm while in Chile. Today we had the opportunity to tour the research dairy owned by the Universidad Austral de Chile. Since I am most familiar with the dairy industry in the United States, we will be comparing the USA and Chile a lot in this post.

First, some facts about the farm: the research dairy has about 170 milking and dry cows at one time, slightly bigger than the average size herd in Chile, which is about 100 cows. The farm is run as a grazing dairy system with 80 hectares and 30 grazing paddocks. The cows are allowed to graze on grass during the day, brought in to a milking center two times each day, and are fed grain during milking as needed, depending on the nutrient content of the pastures they graze on. Cows on this farm produce about 13,230 lbs of milk per one lactation, which usually lasts 305 days. Cows in the United States usually produce about twice that amount.

Chile faces some unique challenges in their dairy industry. First, three southern regions of Chile produce about 85% of the total milk production. In the south, grazing systems like this one are most popular. In the north, the rest of the milk is produced similarly to the United States where a total mixed ration of chopped corn, grain, grass, and legume mixtures are fed to cows inside barns to optimize milk production and genetic potential.

Genetics are another challenge in Chile, since the dairy cow population is about 400,000 cows, comparing to about 9.2 million dairy cows and genetic pools to choose from in the United States. Our tour guide, Juan Keim, mentioned that the University used to have a genetics center to increase genetic diversity in Chile. However, due to the lack of genetic diversity, the competition of another genetics company, and the high availability of genetics from the USA, New Zealand, and Europe, the university’s genetics center had to close a few months ago.

What I’ve found most interesting about Chile’s dairy industry is their most popularly consumed dairy products, which mainly includes cheese. As an avid cereal eater, I was really interested to find that all fluid milk here is ultrapasteurized, a higher temperature pasteurization process than our typical one at home that allows milk to be shelf stable, and not refrigerated until it’s open. Chile’s most common dairy exports are milk powder, baby formula, and cheese.

I was surprised to find how similar Chile and United States’ production systems really were. No matter where we are found, dairy farmers are passionate about environmental stewardship and the welfare of our animals to create nature’s most nearly perfect food. If you have any questions about dairy farming in either Chile or the United States, please feel free to comment them and I will respond as soon as I can! Thanks for reading!!

Day 5: a Stroll in the Beautiful Andes


a panorama of the area surrounding Salto río Maule and the adjacent waterfall

After our last night in the bustling city of Santiago, we left in early morning to make our way to our next stop: Talca.

The class was joined by Flavia Schiappacasse and Steffen Hahn our guides for our time in Talca, and left on a scenic bus ride through the Andes towards Laguna de Maule.  We made several stops to observe the flora of the area- alpine species were flowering everywhere! Mistletoe, Alstroemeria, Rhodophiala, and a terrestrial orchid to name a few.


flora by the SAG station


Sapphire blue waters of Laguna de Maule










It was also interesting to see a micro-ecosystem created by the water running through a ditch next to the SAG station by the Argentinian border.  The man-made ditch juxtaposed with the colors in flower inside of it.   We later saw this phenomenon on a larger and more impressive scale later at the waterfall where ferns thrived only under the constant humidity of the falls.


Solanaceous flower


Boraginaceae flowers, clinging low to the ground










Schizanthus sp. found by the ditch


ferns thriving under the waterfall’s mist










Plants were not the only feature on this trip; Steffen pointed out unique bird species as well as the volcanic pumice and obsidian in the area.  From the bus, we peeked into the valley below and caught sight of a stallion galloping alongside the river.

As we stepped off the bus again at Salto río Maule, Flavia warned us not to step on the native violas as they were tiny and colored like the soil. Before we found them, we weren’t sure what to look for, and they were nothing like the violas we knew from the US.


Chloraea alpina, a terrestrial orchid species native to Chile


a Viola, the size of a golf ball, the color of sand









Needless to say, being at the waterfalls was incredible.  Salto río Maule is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on the earth.  Alpine flora all around, wind coursing through hair, and mist flying up the waterfall onto our faces.  The view itself was breathtaking.  I can speak for others in the class when I say I intend to return and see it again.


Patty Chan (me) by one of the two falls


an alpine stream


Dr. Elizabeth Lam crossing a stream to reach Salto río Maule


Salto río Maule

Fruticultura: INIA Quilamapu Expirement Station

Today we ventured to INIA Quilamapu Expiremental Station to learn about the research on wheat and apples (Yay! Mazanas!) being conducted there.  Upon our arrival, our very knowledgable host, Dr. Pablo Grau , gave us a [somewhat lenghty] presentation on the importance of fruticultura in Chile.  His presentation was thorough and gave us an excellent overview of the agricultural markets in Chile and the significance of their export system here. For example, some interesting facts:

  • The fruit production area of Chile extends over 2800 Km from North to South and encompasses 300,000 ha of land.
  • The fruit industry employs around 500,000 people.
  • Chile is the leading fruit producer in the Southern Hemisphere with approximately 8,000 producers.
  • Fresh fruit is the third most important industrial sector of the Chilean economy.
  • The fruit of Chile reaches approximately 1700 consumers in over 100 different countries in all the continents of the world.
  • It would take Chile 15 years to consume internally what it exports in one year of fruit.

Dr. Grau, a Cornell Graduate, explained to us the strong presence of the global market with the example of the blueberry market. Chile is a very large blueberry producer, exporting 90% of their production to the US.  Their production window begins in November and ends in March, utilizing the months when blueberry production ceases in the US. In other words, the Chilean climate is opposite, or an exact mirror, of ours in Norther America, making them, in an economic sense, perfect global trading partners.  However, in recent years Peru has been planting blueberry plants as well and have been flooding the market with their very flexible production.  Flexible because their climate allows for blueberry production whenever they so please.  Production cycles in Peru are only determined by the cutting rythm implemented by the grower. In addition, labor is very inexpensive in Peru, giving them many advantages to producing a very economically competative fruit product.  Nevertheless, blueberry producers are very sucessfull in South America with net profits of 2.5$.

This past year we saw many issues relating climate change in North America.  Dr. Grau explained that this season has not been all too different for the Chileans this year.  Abnormal summer rains have caused blueberries to pop and temperatures have been rising over all at a rapid rate, causing water shortages. These water shortages, Dr. Grau fears, could put the apple indsutry out of business here in Chile in 5 or so years, as all apples require irrigation here.

Therefore, Dr. Grau demonstrated to us all the agricultural experiments he has been conducting to help improve this industry in these everchanging times.  Until 1990 there was no experimental fruit station in Chile because the government had no funds for this. Now they are sucessfully doing research on major issues surrounding apple production, such as Venturia (Apple Scab), and are working on releasing a new apple variety in 20 years from now.

After the presentaiton we were given a tour of the reasearch facility where we got a taste for Dr. Graus heartwarming personality (see the picture of him kising the Cornell cup) and where he showed us some of his different experiments and projects regarding fruit quality.  Overall, this stop stimulated abundant discussion amongst the group regarding Chile´s role in the global trade system. The discussions that blossomed from the above mentioned facts and information made this stop absolutely valuable and mind-expanding.


Live blogging -Dinner tonight

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Medicinal Plants: Who “owns” sacred plant material?


Hermine Vogel, our guide and the director of CENATIV at the University of Talca.

Today we arose, much like every other morning, hastily and with excited anticipation, this time in the city of Talca. It was always an early American wake-up call for us, despite the fact that we always went to bed at a very Chilean hour (extremely late), but still we rallied, bright-eyed, ready for the sights and experiences of the day. We boarded the bus and headed to Panguilemo Research Farm just outside of the city — the only field station of its kind, run by the University of Talca. The farm hosts a variety of research projects, from poplar breeding for forestry experiments to viticulture trials. We met with our guide Hermine Vogel, faculty at the university and director of the CENATIV (Chilean Native Plant Center), and honed in on one specific project she has been working on for some time now: the breeding and propagation of a unique plant endemic to Chile, known by its common name as maqui. 

Maqui berries on one of the plants propagated by Vogel and her team at the Panguilemo Research Farm.

Maquiscientifically classified as Aristotelia chilensis in the family Elaeaocarpaceae, is a large, bushy shrub that is primarily defined by its production of small, deep purple berries. These berries are the prized feature of the plant, for they have been found to function as one of the strongest antioxidants known to natural medicine. The Mapuche people, a group indigenous to Chile, have been using maqui berries for centuries, both as a food product and a medicine. Its medicinal properties have recently come into consideration by Western science, and within the past couple decades use of maqui as an herbal remedy has become more mainstream. The berries possess a wealth of medically active chemistry, including anthocyanins and polyphenols, both which possess powerful antioxidative capacities. Because of this, maqui berries are presently being collected for commercial sale and exportation by herbal product distributors, as well as for research purposes by major drug companies attempting to isolate the active chemistry. Both of these endeavors are relying on wild collection of the fruit, a practice which, unsurprisingly, has allowed for a rapidly intensifying overharvest. In an effort to provide an alternative for drug companies and the global market, Vogel and her team are making efforts to breed and clearly define a protocol for commercially growing and propagating the maqui plant.

Vogel and her team began the project by taking cuttings and vegetatively propagating from 30 different Aristotelia chilensis plants found in the wild. They then selected the ten that displayed the most favorable characteristics for commercial growth, such as size of berry and production of the earliest fruits. The project continues in its current stage, which involves growing trials for these ten selected varieties, in order to determine which may be best for commercialized growth and berry harvest.

The Mapuche people have been internally working on their own breeding and propagation programs for maqui, and the ultimate goal from all parties is to protect the wild populations from unsustainable harvest. Despite this notion, there still exists some difficult questions. The exploitative nature of producing a sacred plant for a mass marketing campaign does not coexist harmoniously with the human-plant-medicine relationship that is cultivated in traditional use of the plant. Vogel has worked with the Mapuche in some capacity, offering assistance in the process of developing their own varieties, but there is one notable difference in ideology: the Mapuche have no desire to commercialize or sell their bred plant varieties. Whether this decision is based on the notion that they currently control most of the market in berry collection, or because they do not agree with sharing a sacred plant with an inevitably exploitative system, it is hard to tell.




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