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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


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

January 6,2017: An Afternoon With Monsanto

The genetic advancement of agricultural crops is a growing area of research that many people are not aware about. Today we had the tremendous opportunity to visit one of the three Monsanto Research stations in Chile where we were able to learn about the different projects that are taking place at the station. Upon arrival we were greeted by some of the staff members and sat through a short presentation that explained about DH technology and how it is changing the direction of plant genetics. We also had the opportunity to drive out to different field sites where the staff explained to us different breeding projects that were  being worked on with corn, soybean, and canola. One of the main things that stood out to me was a conversation I had with one of the agronomists on the drive out to the field where he spoke to me about the importance of Chile’s climate which makes the research station possible. The consistent dry climate in the southern hemisphere allows for research projects like these to take place. The cool climate at night is helpful to prevent diseases and insects from being a problem, and the availability of  labor allows for long labored tasks to be possible. Finally, one of the most amazing things I realized was that although Chile may be thousands of miles away from the United States our westernized market and the amount and type of seed that our  American farmers use each season also affects the Chilean people. These are things that the common public does not think about when they sit at the dinner table to eat a meal, but a changing global climate will begin to drive the way our farmers and our suppliers work, and will in turn affect prices for consumers. Visiting the Monsanto Research station was definitely an eye opening experience and a very exciting way to get young people like us that are interested in agriculture to see potential futures with the industry.

Plant Biodiversity Student looking at Corn Breeding Fields

Habitat Fragmentation

I found a great video explaining the main concepts of what habitat fragmentation is, how it affects the wildlife around it, and how to mitigate habitat fragmentation, all using my favorite example- kitties!

As a review, habitat fragmentation is defined as the process by which a large habitat gets broken up into smaller habitats through habitat loss. Habitat fragmentation often results in a species, plant or animal, to become endangered due to a separation from or decrease of necessary resources like food, water, and shelter.

In order to mitigate the threats of habitat fragmentation due to infrastructure, environmentalists and engineers join forces to create land bridges, overpasses, tunnels, and culverts to name a few examples.

How can you help mitigate habitat fragmentation? Become involved in local land use and zoning issues, keep your politicians informed about the impacts of habitat fragmentation, and support conservation planning and ecological restoration initiatives.

Featured Chilean Plant: Yareta

You’re hiking far into the Andes mountain range, high above the sea.  For miles upon miles, all you see is sky, sand, and rocks— wait…except for that lime green amorphous mass right there.  Are you seeing this right? You sure are.  It’s not Oobleck or alien slime, but a plant with clever adaptations, Yareta.


Yareta (Azorella compacta) is a plant native to South America, present at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 ft above sea level.  It’s in the family Apiaceae, same as many familiar plants such as carrots, celery, and parsley.  In contrast to how it may appear, Yareta is an incredibly firm, dense plant with a woody structure covered in many small waxy leaves.

Its foreign appearance is due to the plant’s adaptations to surviving a fairly inhospitable environment where it must endure drought and regular bouts of cold temperatures.  It grows incredibly slowly, at a rate of 1.5 cm in any direction a year to conserve resources needed to produce biomass, and grows dense to conserve the plant’s internal heat and moisture.  The waxy cuticle on the leaves also ensure less water transpires from the plant.  Botanists theorize that Yareta limits itself to several feet in height because it’s slightly warmer clinging close to the ground.


Pretty crazy, isn’t it? It’s amazing what forms plants can take to survive.



A Brief History of Preservation and Conservation Efforts in Chile

Chile, like most countries today, have developed a greater concern for protecting natural areas to conserve natural wildlife and biodiversity. It is important though, to understand Chilean’s history of protecting wildlife areas to understand how Chile can move forward in protecting biodiversity

The history wildlife modern wildlife preservation began with the establishment of Yellowstone in 1872, the first established national park in the world. Since the inception of the United States National Park Service, Western cultures paid greater attention to the need of preserving wildlife from human disturbance. Currently in this time period, de-forestation and agriculture development was rampant in Chile. Two European naturalists, Claudio Gay and Federico Albert, helped develop the first government natural protection programs in Chile with a focus on preserving forest heritage. Due to commercial interests, it was not until 1907 that the first natural protection area, the Malleco National reserve, was established. Following 1907 to 1925, many new reserves were established. In 1927 the first national park, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, was established. Unfortunately, many of the reserves created served only for conservation efforts rather than ecological ones, and by the 1930s, a large portion of Chilean’s forests were cut down and all fertile land was used for agriculture. Only the southern and high elevation regions of Chile were considered for protection


It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Chilean government reconsidered the importance of establishing protected areas. Following international trends for the need of ecological preservation, Chile, in 1984, established a law that created the government program national public system of protected areas, or SNAPSE. The goal of the program was to both compile the current scattered areas of protected land into one program, and to increase the amount of protected “wilderness” lands in Chile. Today, SNAPSE continues to be a somewhat effective program, however many preservation efforts in Chile are being led by philanthropic private land owners there. Critics argue that while these private lands are assisting in biodiversity protection, government regulation is needed to ensure that these lands are not converted into agriculture, development, etc.. if the landowners decide to change their objectives. Below is a picture of the Altos de Lecay national preserve located about 40 miles east of Talca.


If you are interested more information on the history of Chile protection areas can be found with the link below

The beauty of native plants on Valle Nevado in Chile

In Chile, there are plants that are found no where else in the world. The biodiversity of Chile is rich and precious, and its plants are valued highly throughout the world. Of its 5,100 species of flora and fauna, more than 2,500 are endemic – that is, found nowhere else on Earth.

Alstroemeria up in Valle Nevado

Alstroemeria up in Valle Nevado



Placea spp.

Placea spp. growing on the side of a hill

Endemism in Chile

What I appreciate most about the biodiversity of Chile, is the great wealth of endemic species that the country is home to. There has often been debate over whether endemism or biodiversity should be used as a measure of conservation, but I propose that the two go hand-in-hand. For a country such as Chile, the overlap between biodiversity and endemism is much easier to appreciate.  Though Chile as a whole does not contain a vast number of species, it has the largest percentage of endemic species in the world. About 50% of all species are endemic. For vascular plants alone, 2,698 species are endemic to Chile. I would challenge anyone who dismisses these 3,000 species of regional importance as not representing the country’s impressive biodiversity.

In fact, there are complete plant families that are endemic to Chile. This uniqueness only attests to the importance of endemism for biodiversity, and conservation as a whole. There are three families endemic to Chile. The Lactoridaceae is a family of flowering shrubs endemic to a specific forest on Robinson Crusoe Island, of the Juan Fernandez Islands. The Thyrsopteridaceae family is also found in the Juan Fernandez Islands. This tree fern family, however, has given rise to a only one species – Thyrsopteris elegans (shown below). The Gomortegaceae family is endemic to the coastal  region of central Chile. Also producing only a single species, Gomortega keule, this tree is facing threat of extinction due to over-harvesting and deforestation. The tree produces an edible fruit, that is rather sweet and commonly used to make a kind of marmalade (also pictured below).


Images of Thyrsopteris elegans


The fruit of Gomortega keule


An Example of Conservation: Karukinka

On the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, located in the Patagonia region of Chile, lies the beautiful landscapes of Karukinka. The area is filled with unique wildlife, and many endangered and endemic species.  The ecosystem is diverse, abundant and delicate. It is rich in plant diversity, with species such as Chilean fire bush, white dog orchard, sundew, and the southern beech. Unfortunately, through pollution, hunting, and land degradation, there has been a significant decrease in biodiversity.

Karukinka is unique in that it has proven to be a groundbreaking model of how the public and private sector can work together to impact conservation. With one of the largest donations ever made in the history of conservation, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, gave the lands that now for the Karukinka protected area to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Since 2004, the bank has continued to provide basic support for the park operations. In addition to Goldman Sachs, the WCS has worked with more than 50 other private and public institutions to promote conservation in Chile. These include mining and wine industry leaders, local conservation groups, local schools in Tierra del Fuego, and the Ministry of Environment.

In a decade, WCS has seen many successes in their conservation efforts. These include working with the Chilean government to eradicate an invasive beaver population and protecting 60% of the Chilean Guanaco population. With climate change, WCS has pledge to work to protect areas where peat bog mining is taking place. The peat bogs are one of Patagonia’s most valuable resources, as they have the ability to trap greenhouse gases. Through conservation, preservation, education, and and extension, WCS and other environmental organizations in Chile work to preserve the great biodiversity present in the beautiful landscapes.


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