Travelling for research

During his time in Chile, Nuffield Scholar Matthew Gunningham visited a number of agricultural sites including the Unifrutti fruit grading facilities.

Experience. Six countries, seven weeks and 21 flights later, Matthew Gunningham returns to Circular Head with newfound knowledge and insight into the world of agriculture. The Mawbanna dairy farmer was one of 23 young primary producers and managers across the country to be presented with the Nuffield Scholarship, which sees them undertake research into agriculture and fisheries across the globe using the $30,000 bursary for a 16-week program of group and individual travel. Matthew shares his experience with Chronicle readers.

Santiago, Chile

On Sunday March 19 our group composed of five Australian and five International Nuffield Scholars landed in Santiago, the capital of Chile.

Chile is the second longest country in the world with a coastline stretching 4300 kilometres north to south. It has a population of close to 18 million, with 4.3M living in the capital.

Chile exports US$60 billion of agricultural produce but copper is by far its largest single export. Per capita GDP in Chile is US$13,362.

Our program of visits was designed to help us gain a deeper understanding of Chilean agriculture.

Our visits took us to:

• Fruits from Chile, the body representing fruit exporters, who last year exported US$5.2B of produce – an increase of 14 per cent on the prior year.

• Kuehne and Nagel freight forwarders to learn about the logistics of getting produce to markets across the world.

• Unifrutti fruit grading facilities.

• Agrosuper, a vertically integrated pig and poultry grower and processor.

We had a meeting with Jose Guajardo, one of the country’s agricultural secretaries, to discuss Chilean agriculture. We also visited Montes Alpha, a large scale dryland winery producing premium wines for export, and an abattoir processing pigs, part of Coexca SA – another vertically integrated meat producer and processor.

We also visited the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA), one of a network of 12 agricultural research centres spread throughout Chile. Here we were introduced to their wheat breeding program.

Chile is such a long country that it has a vast range of climatic conditions, by now we had travelled over 1000 kilometres south and the countryside had transformed from dryer fruit and cropping areas to more familiar green rolling countryside, dominated by perennial pastures and grazing livestock.

Two highlights were a night spent camping in the Andes Mountains, where we were treated to a Chilean barbecue by our host and our final visit in Chile: a mixed family farming operation that encompasses cereals, potatoes, forestry, and three time 220 cow seasonal calving (mid July to mid September) pasture based dairy herds.

The unique thing about the dairy operation was that each herd was milked by two farm staff through its own mobile milking bail. The milking equipment was moved from paddock to paddock with the cows, a temporary electric fence was used to hold the cows next to the shed at milking time. A small amount of homegrown grain was fed to the cows at milking time. A mobile milk tank held the milk temporarily and then milk was transported back to a central vat on the farm for collection by the dairy cooperative.

Milk price was very similar to Australia – close to $5 per kilogram of milk solids. The farming system was simple and profitable, returns were very good due to high level of pasture consumed in the diet and the low capital investment in machinery and infrastructure.

We were very impressed with the excellent food processing facilities and with how cost competitive Chilean farmers were.

On Saturday March 25 we boarded a plane bound for Washington DC for the next leg of our trip.

This is Part II of Matthew’s story. Read more in an upcoming edition of the Chronicle.

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