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Piga Seed Exchange Company

On Friday, we had the pleasure of touring Pointa Piga Seed Exchange company. As we rolled up the dusty, tree-lined rural road to the facility, we were greeted by the security guard at the gate and by the dogs sleeping under the trees on the perimeter of the facility. 19 of us filed off of the bus and Sandra, who also guided the PLHRT 4940 tour of Piga in 2012, gave us a warm welcome before delving into a brief history of Piga and explaining its importance in globalized agricultural production.

Chile is important for seed production because of its counter-season, which, along with Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, allows it to produce seeds during the time that client countries are experiencing the winter season. Piga grows crops like corn, squash, cabbage, melons, and tomatoes at their locations in Chile, Peru, and Argentina. These crops are predominantly grown for Japan and the United States, though Piga also works with a handful of European clients. As a seed company, Piga does not choose for specific traits or establish cultivars, it only seeds for crops sent in by clients, multiplies them, and sells back the seed they produce. Piga can supply seed for small scale production or handle large volume contracts.

As we observed different netted growing plots for crops like tomatoes and lettuce, the extreme complexity of running an operation like Piga became clear. GPS systems, flawless planning, and close contact with competitors is necessary to ensure that cross-pollination among crops does not occur. When mapping where certain crops will be grown, Piga prioritizes placing hybrid brassicas and melons 2.5-3km away from each other.

The process for seed production is specific to each crop and, of course, dependent on way a plant reproduces. For tomatoes, first the original seed from the client is sown after being checked for potential pathogens. Then, seedlings are transplanted into a plot. Once mature enough, tomato plants are castrated to ensure full control of reproduction. Next, Piga workers hand-pollinate flowers. The resulting fruits are harvested. The tomatoes are fermented for 24 hours to release their seeds from the mucilage, and a special enzyme is added to complete the cleaning and preparation of the seed to be sent to clients. No step along the process or plant or flower can be missed, so Piga workers are extremely skilled and careful. Sandra stressed that without its diligent employees, Piga would not be the reputable and reliable company it is. Piga recognizes this and is managed in such a way that encourages workers to want to stay with the company for a long time with incentives like bonuses for long-time employees.

After touring multiple plots, we were invited into the lab where seeds are treated and tested for pathogens before planting, as well as the facility where seeds are sorted and packaged. Many of us were struck by how transparent, warm, welcoming, and informative each part of the tour was, and as our journey around the facility came to an end with the agua con gas and traditional chilean candy treats that Sandra and Piga had layed out for us in the office where our tour began, I heard classmates, only slightly joking, or perhaps not joking at all (I wasn’t) saying that they wanted to come back and work for Sandra.
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