Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Travel Guide for Chile

Converting pesos to dollars----double it; divide by 1,000; then multiply times 90%. So 2,000 pesos (written "$2.000") equals $1.80 USD.

weather--it does not rain in the wine region and Santiago for 9 months of the year. Winter starts in May. Then the rain comes and the Chileans are awed by its apperance. The rain clears the contaminated air of Santiago where a system of "pica y placa" determines which automobiles can be driven on any particular day. The chileans bundle up in the day when the temperature drops to 10 degrees celcius (50 degrees farenheit) as if it was the Chilean Antartic while the gringo can go sleeveless. In July even the gringo is shivering as there is no central air heat and the hotels do not turn on the heat until 8 o'clock PM. People heat rooms with propane fired heaters and wooden stoves so one wonders whether they will die from carbon monixide poisoning. The Chileans have no natural gas of their own and are dependent on Argentina for that---to be dependant on Argentina for anything puts one in dire straits.
rodeo--In Chile cowboys do not lasso cows or ride a bucking bull until it tosses them off. Instead two cowboys ("huasos") mount horses and corral a steer into a wall gaining points depending where the horse makes contact--e.g. 4 points for the rear end. No gringo could possible understand this sport. The rules are listed here.
natural gas and hot water--if you stay in a hostal you might have to share a shower with others--well not at the same time unless that is the thrill you are seeking. If the hot water cuts off when your hair is filled with soap then the hot water heater is probably turned off. In Chile instead of heating gallons of water as we do in the states they use an on-demand type of system that heats water as it flow through the pipes. This uses natural gas for which the Chileans pay world market price so it's expensive. If you rent a house then perhaps the hot water heater is located on an outside wall and the pilot light can blow out in a really heavy wind. Propane tanks are delivered by truck or even by bicycle to the neighborhoods. You can relight the hot water heater yourself with a simple lighter and there is not much chance you will blow yourself up.
exiting a bus or an airplane--Chileans do not understand the concept of "first on last off". In gringolandia if you are sitting in, say, row 22 you let the people in row 21 get off first. Instead the Chileans--man, woman, child--push ahead comptelely oblivious of what to most would be logical.
soccer--"futbol" is more important here that what President Obama might be saying or the fact that the global economy is in free fall. The only thing that attracts more attention for the native is the soap opera ("telenovela") "Donde esta Elisa?" ("where is Elisa") which closely mirrors the comings and goings of the family who owns the nation's largest newspaper El Mercurio.
has been musicians--Where can you see Peter Frampton and The Brothers Johnson? Certainly not in the USA because they cannot earn a nickel there. So they head to the music festival at Vina del Mar where the natives do not know better. The Jonas Brothers are in Chile today? Does this portend their end?
news--television news starts at 9 o'clock at night on TVN. At the airport instead of CNN they broadcast music videos. It must be easy for the rest of the world to let the Americans alone worry about terrorism, famine, that sort of thing.
women--there are lots of single mothers ("madres soleteros") here. If they can get it they seek child support ("pension alimientos"). The gringo with $100 bills, a blue passport, and an odd accent has a decided advantage over the local womanizer ("mujer riego"). But Chileans, like Colombians, are not so poor, at least the upper tier. They glamorize themselves in the social pages of El Mercurio and have expensive houses in Las Condes and at the beach in Vina del Mar. The poor people are more comfortable in Valparaiso. As for The Spanish it is much easier to be charming if your speach is halting whatever the language. I find it charming that young girls often hold hand when they walk.
love--Chilean teenagers and young adults live with their parents so they go to "cabanas" for lovemaking which are motel rooms rented by the hour. There if you happen to have a car you can drive it behind a curtain where the adulterer can hide from the prying eyes of the detective's camera. There is a whole language for different degrees of courtship. If you female friends lets you have sex with her she is an "amiga con ventaja". If you are dating she becomes you "polola". Date her and no one else and she is your "novia". Marry and she becomes your "esposa". Divorce and--as is the case in the USA--she becomes your "ex".

school and English--the wealthier people send their children to private school ("collegios") and those most fortunate of all take private classes in order to score highly on the PSU (equivalent of the SAT) so they can go to college. Children who go to the collegios know English pretty well. Simple laborers earn about $1 per hour working in agriculture and are laid off after the grape harvest is done.
agriculture---The whole of the country from La Serena down to Concepcion is planted with grapes, onion, olives, whatever. Were it not for the irrigation which cuts across the country in aqueducts and canals it would all be dust. If you grow roses and live in the humid and wet east coast of the USA you will be envious how easily everything grows here without mildew.
coffee--Chileans export most of their agriculture it would seem keeping little of it for themselves. So they drink powdered drinks or buy cheap, watered down jugos ("juices"). Contrast this with Colombia where mango, blackberry, and other juices are drunk au natural without so much water. In the USA of course we prefer water, corn syrup, food coloring, and cancer causing concoctions which contains say 2% real fruit. Chile does not grow coffee. Instead of brewing ground beans they like it powdered. As for decaf they know not what that means.
sea food--clams ("almejas"), sea urchin, and and odd looking creature called "pico roco" are plentiful here sold by the cartful in the open air at Puerto Montt. For fish they have salmon in the South and congrio and reinata everywhere. I have never seen anything like what in the USA they call a "Chilean Bass" so presume that to be some invention of the gringo mentality.

waiting in line--if you go to the pharmacy to, say, recharge the balance on your cell phone take a number and wait. In Santiago, which is a large city, you have to wait in line for the pharmacy, the bank, to obtain service from the butcher and so forth. Chileans wait in line to pay bills at "servipago". In the USA I wait in line for nothing prefering to pay bills and buy tickets on the internet.
public telephone--it costs 100 pesos to call a land line ("linea fija") and 200 pesos to call a cell phone ("movil"). Dial 09 before each cell phone number.
la once--Chileans eat 4 times per day. breakfast ("desayuno"), lunch ("almuerzo"), dinner ("la cena"), and a light dinner at 5 o'clock (oddly enough called "la once" which means 11).
the work day--don't wake up at 5 o'clock and put on your running shows and head out to Starbucks. Shops here don't open until 10 and children go to school in shifts. For this reason you will see lots of school kids on the street at night when you would imagine they should be home fighting with their siblings.
dogs--dogs are free to wander all over Chile and no one cares. You will see them sleeping on the streets and crossing with pedestrians to the rythym of traffic lights ("semaforos"). In the USA someone seeing a stray would call the police and the dog squad would descend in great numbers perhaps with guns drawn.
cell phones--buy a prepaid cell phone in the USA and pay over the internet to have it unlocked. Make sure it is a GSM phone. Then here you can buy a SIM card and a prepaid cell phone card ("tarjeta") in order to recharge ("recarga") the balance ("saldo"). Chile under Pinochet embraced Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and free-wheeling capitalism while electing socialts to office since then. Consequently there are multiple cell phone companies vying for your business. When you call someone it is free or them which is good when you are dating a girl who has no money, honey.
paying for stuff--In Chile you pay the "cajera" (cashier) after first choosing a product from one counter, perhaps retrieving it from another, then finally paying for it at a third. The system is bureaucratic with even the smallest stores having at least two steps in this three step process. They will always give you a receipt ("boleto") which is one reason Chile is known as a country where they is little corruption, well comparated to say Ecuador or Argentina, since there is this paper trail.
swimming pools--apparently no one swims in Santiago for there is one indoor pool ("piscina techada"), the YMCA, and it costs $12 per day to swim there. As for the ocean it is too cold for lots of people unless you are used to the Pacific chill in California.
police--the national police here are called "carbineros". They are professional and courteous and will not accept bribes ("morditas"). Argentine drivers accustomed to paying bribes to avoid a traffic ticket are arrested here when they try that.
illegal immigrants---as the USA is overrun with Mexicans Chile is overun with Peruvians. That is why you will see signs “for rent” ("se arrienda") only Chileans.
Chilean wine--buy my book "Wine, Communism, and Volcanoes".
Wifi internet---buy a prepaid mobile broadband card from Falabella or Ripleys or Paris. It will cost $100 and the first two months might be free. So no contract required. The service providers are EntelPC, Movistar, and Claro. When you go back to home just give it away to someone else.
Public transport----taxis are cheap but collectivos are cheaper. A “collectivo” can mean a bus or a taxi that runs in the same loop day in and day out. On the windshield it says for example “$200”. That would be 38 cents. These cabs are shared. You can tell the driver when you pay “se paga” meaning "I am paying you now". When you want to get off say “la esquina por favor” meaning “drop me off at the corner.” The subway in Santiago is clean and efficient. Buy a BIP card and use it to board the bus and the metro. Push the button near the door to signal your descent. In order to plan your trip around santiago use
tips—a tip is a “propina”. For meals it is 10% or zero and there is no place on the credit card receipt to attach it. For taxis it is zero.
hookers--legal. Not much more need be said. Larger towns will have a red light district. If you are looking for the traditional burlesque show go to a "cafe con piernes" where topless women serve drinks over the bar.
petty crime--Chile is free of the kipnapping and extortion problems or Colombia and Mexico. But here there is petty and sometimes violent crimes from criminials ("delincuentes"). Watch your camera and your back pack.
Credit cards---every time you use your credit card they will ask for your “RUT”. This is like a social security number. Just make up a 7 digit number or write down your passport number. No one will ask to see your passport except maybe the Chinese restaurants whose owners are adrift between two cultures. Also know that the cashier will ask you if you would like to pay in installments ("cuotas") and whether you want to donate 100 pesos to the poor. Just say "sin cuotas".
refrigeration--my first wife came from Ecuador a country where meat is sold in the open air without refrigerationand people pile in 7 to a vehicle without seat belts. She threatened me bodily if I took our 11 year old son to the store without his child restraint system and her family all wanted their food cooked well done. When my mother-in-law and sister-in-law came over for a cookout I simply burned what they ate and they appeared pleased. As for Chile and Colombia don't look for eggs in the refrigerated section of the dairy. The are on the counter. As one who has farmed chickens I can tell you a hen lays her egg in 90 or 100 degree temperatures and it can sit there days or weeks without spoiling. One reasons eggs in the USA are refrigerated is they are sold old, months old in many cases. An egg yoke should be bright yellow. If it is grey, as they usually are at the Walmart and elsewhere, it indicates age. "Botalo"--i.e. trash it. I buy only brown or organic eggs as the conditions in which chickens are raised on factory farms are filthy and disgusting.

sex--The gringo culture is rather uptight. We have The Moral Majority, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Right to Lifers, militant Lesbian feminists all railing again what THEY consider to be immoral. In Chile--a Catholic country where divorce was only made legal a few years ago--there is little of this tyrrany of the Moral Minority. This is also the case in Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, everywhere beyond the stifling confines of USA victorian mores. Here women wear thong bathing suits while they are arrested for doing the same where I was born at Litchfield Beach, South Carolina. It is 1:30 AM here now and I am watching a burlesque show on broadcast television. There is no FCC here to impose the will of the religious right on the rest of us. The telenovelas are almost soft born with steamier scenes than you would ever see on, say, Days of Our Lives. Prostitution is legal while--owing to the influence of the church---abortion usually is not but even that is changing. Which country is more free? If I could say more I would add to this burden the misery which is inflicted by the legal system in America which stifles so many aspect of our lives with "no running", "no trespassing", "no skateboarding", "no regard" for what is logical the lunacy havencompletely haven got out of hand.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Farmers Market in Santiago

I am still here in Chile having turned over the goats to a goatherd and a vineyard to a vineyard worker. So for my blog on Virginia agriculture today I write about the farmers market in Chile.

This is a four day weekend in Chile to mark the end of the War of the Pacific on May 21 which is when Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia enlarging their country and denying Bolivia access to the sea. Since the holiday is a Thursday Chileans take Friday for vacation as well. They have not pushed all their federal holidays to Monday as we have done so the kids get an extra day off school.

Here in central Santiago in a neighborhood located between Cummins and Quinta Normal subway stops peddlers line the street for a dozen blocks selling everything from clothes to seafood to vegetables. The streets are crowed on this cloudy Sunday morning as worshipers pile out of the Salvation Army church a few blocks away. The city library is crowded with students working on the free internet access provided there. The walls could use painting. Many books have their covers worn. At the entrance there is mention of a grant from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. In the markets crowds of illegal immigrants from Peru sell pirated DVD music, candy apples, socks, or a single brassier if that is all they have for inventory. It would seem only in the USA and maybe Europe that copyright piracy laws are really enforced so the gringo pays $29 for the latest movie while on the street here it costs $2.

I head into the street to buy cilantro and peppers, kiwi, and olives, spring onions, and carrots. I am looking for a ready-made mix of spices called “verdura surtida” which is hojas de apio(celery), perejil (like cilantro), and oregano fresco(fresh oregano). Carrots are called “zanahorias”. Bell peppers are “pimentones”. Spring onions are “cebollin italiano”. Kiki of course is “kiwi” and plaintains are “platanos”.

According to today's La Tercera newspaper the latest fashion in agriculture in Chile arearellanos, which are hazelnuts, which you can have with your coffee at Starbucks. The newspaper says they can be grown here cheaper than anywhere else in the world. Fortunes have been made here and lost in olives, oranges, grapes and kiwi and now perhaps arellanos but those markets are given to wide swings in price. There is lots of kiwi planted here in Chile. One male plant is planted in the middle of a dozen or so females. The vines are trained overhead in theparron style of trellis which is used to grow table grapes and low quality wine grapes. You can readily tell a kiwi farm when you drive buy because the fruit smells strongly like kerosene.

All of this produce is of course local agriculture except no one touts “locally grown” or “organic” or any of that because Chile is one giant cultivated garden at least where the ground is not vertical (I.e. The Andes) or desert or timbered forest. So many people work in agriculture here not simply as laborers but as salesmen, agronomists, managers, and other that they don't treat it as a novelty like we do in the outer burbs of Northern Virginia. The situation here in Chile must be like, say, Fresno, California where agriculture is simply a way to earn a living for an entire communities.

Back at the market I have filled two shopping bags—you need to bring your own---for 4,000 pesos (about $8). I have some money left over so I buy oranges (naranjas) and acetunas which you might call “olivias” except they are not as salty. (Salt is to olives as vinegar and alum are to pickles)

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Eldon Farms

John Genho, is a 29 year Ivy League school graduate who reads the Wall Street Journal and farms 7,600 acres of pastureland and forest in Rappahannock County. His crew includes a cowboy from Florida, a former rock-n-roller who had a top 40 hit, two other farm hands, an office person, and a pack of border collies and other types of working dogs.
People who live in Rappahannock County know Eldon Farms, if only by reputation, as the local environmentalists eye what might be the largest tract of contiguous land in three counties hoping the owners never carve it up for development. Running all the way from Slate Mills Rd to  Sperryville this sprawling farm cross both sides of highway 522 with 24 rental houses and 100 buildings on the property plus 65 miles of fencing. Unlike so many of the hobby horse and cattle farms in the county—whose owners sometimes say they “farm” although they produce no profit--this farm is a working farm whose revenue pays the salaries, the medical bills, the food, and the clothing for the handful of people who work there.

Eldon Farms has for 40 years belonged  to the Lane Family whose founder William “Bill” N. Lane, II  died in an automobile accident near the family's Bell Ranch in New Mexico some 30 years ago. The late Mr. Lane was an astute businessman who bought an interest in a Chicago book binding company acquiring other properties which continue under family ownership as Lane Hospitality, Acco Brands and others. His widow continued to spend time at the house they call “Little Eldon” and his son Nelson still knows people in the county.

John Genho does not deal with the family members too much since Eldon Farms is owned by the corporation and run as a business. The same environmentalists who are eager to assert an easement across the farm will be comforted by the fact that John sits on the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District board, a generally elected position, with Monira Rifaat who of course is an advocate of conservation easements. Cliff Miller was formerly on that board and has put much of his Mount Vernon Farm into the CREP and BMP cost sharing programs which pay farmers to keep cattle out of the stream. Eldon Farms is doing that too although it will take a while with so many miles of fencing to replace. The BMP cost sharing program has been boosted from 75% to 85% plus Rappahannock has a matching funds program from a donor for $50,000 for the 15% gap.
John is a Mormon who went to school at Brigham Young then Cornell where he studied animal genetics. He lives on the farm in a large house with his child  ren and wife who likes to take photos and upload them to the family's blog.
Farming, of course, is hardly profitable anymore the costs of machinery, grain, and land having put profitability out of the reach of possibility for most family farms. John says Eldon Farms breaks even and has a positive cash flow in the years when he is able to cut timber, the mountainous forest here harboring some veneer quality red oak. Because of the crash in the housing market ,  timber prices have  fallen  to “65-70% of what the value was a couple of years ago” so logging is no windfall.
John says, “When you look at our accounting we make money off cattle.” But it won't make you rich adding, “It's not something you would want to take out a loan and start a business. We have 24 rental houses. If we can cut timber we have positive cash flow.”
Every day John checks the price of feeder cattle and corn on the Chicago Board of Trade. He says that for years corn traded for $2 to $4per bushel. “But last summer corn was trading over $7 dollars. Grass has all of a sudden become more valuable.” The traditional model for a cow calf operation has been to raise cattle to 500 pounds weight then sell them at the livestock auction where they would be shipped off to large feeding operations in Nebraska or small Mennonite Amish-run operations in Pennsylvania where they would be fed corn until they reach their 1,200 pound slaughter weight. Corn is now back down to $4 per bushel, still feedlots prefer calves that weight 700 to 800 pounds because it takes less time and less money to fatten up the cows for slaughter. In order to each that extra weight 200 to 300 pounds of weight the rancher needs to overwinter the cattle which is difficult to do if you have to pay for hay. Eldon Farms does not have to buy hay because they bale their own  and stockpile fescue for the winter—that means they simply leave certain paddocks ungrazed and unclipped.
John has 1,400 head of cattle on the farm including 500 calves which in June will be headed to market. In January he sold those calves which weighed more than 600 pounds to the Winchester livestock market and was pleased by the price in the off season sale. October and November are, “The Absolute worst time to sell them, because no one wants to take them through the winter.”Calves kept over the winter are called “stocker cattle”.
Of other parts of the country John says, “Nebraska grasslands are prime cow calf country”. But the disadvantage there is you have to supply hay in the winter while in Virginia fescue grass can be stockpiled for the winter. He says, “The three best things about fescue  are January, February, and March and the worst are June, July, and August.” By this he is referring to the endophyte infected tall fescue grass which dominates the landscape here. The fungus lives in harmony with the plant thus giving it the ability to tolerate the cold winters here. But in summer endophyte causes cattle to lose rather than gain weight as their respiration and heart rate increase. The alternative would be to try and kill all the fescue and replace it with orchard grass or something like MaxQ fescue but that takes time and costs money.
To boost protein Eldon Farms plants some summer annuals like pearl millet and small grains like barley but only on a small scale for their heifers that will become breeding stock to give them an extra boost. His focus instead is to maintain the highest quality pasture as he rotates stock from one paddock to another to both improve the grass stand there and keep the animals from overgrazing pastures, which would expose them to lethal intestinal parasites which live in the soil.
John's ideal pasture management system would be to sample 20% of the pastures each year and then apply fertilizer according to the soil sample. But prices have wrecked havoc on the ideal situation. He says, “What we are really interested in is getting the phosphorus and potassium right and for nitrogen we figure if we can clover into the field nitrogen will take care of itself. Unless we are stockpiling fescue we cannot afford to put nitrogen on the field.” But he ads, “Potassium prices went from $100 per ton to $1000 per ton so we cannot afford to buy that. I would love to put potassium and phosphorus  down on our field. Nitrogen gives you a short term bloom but it leaches out pretty fast. Potassium and phosphorous give you a good healthy field.”
The two cowboys Robert Gainer and Rich Bradley and the farm manager John Genho offer to saddle up the horses and move the cattle on horseback for the visiting journalist but pick up trucks and dogs will do just fine. Ray Bennett is waiting at the other end of the pasture several miles away as the  lowing herd is marshalled toward tender new ungrazed grass at the other end of the village of Woodville. The grass here is a mix or orchard grass and clover with some blue grass and fescue mixed it—it is what the farmers would call “lush”. A dozen bulls barely lift their heads as we drive by in a pickup truck in order to meet the cowboys and the herd. The bulls have long ago worked out which one is dominant and the lesser males take care to stay out of the way of the largest. John says each year a couple are injured killed fighting.  He says, “This is what it means to be a male.”
We have completely blocked one of the winding lanes leaving Woodville as the herd is turned down the road. The working dogs snap at the heels of the cows as they push them along. There are so many cows one wonders for a moment whether you  would  be crushed if they stampede. John's border collie is meant to be at the front of the pack but is working at the back as he responds to John's verbal signals. The border collie lurks behind a few stubborn cows then nips at them as the cows briefly challenge the dog then retreat. A couple hundred heifers are in the pasture on the other side of the road and crowd the fence trying to join the larger herd. Traffic, if there were any on this almost abandoned road, would not be able to pass as the animals have taken over a ¼ mile of unpaved roadway. The cattle kick up dust on their way to the other pasture. The herd moved to the new location the cowboys return to their never ending task of maintaining the fences.

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What Happened to All the Silos?

Drive across the landscape in Virginia and the observant person notices that practically all of the silos here are no longer in use except on some dairy farms. Instead of being used to store silage—that is, grain that is fermented so that it will not spoil—trees are growing up through the middle of these ghosts of the landscape which have not been used for some years.

There is an old saying which is very much true for those who bale hay: “Make hay while the sun shines”. When you cut hay you have to let it dry for a couple of days in the sun before you bale it up. Otherwise if you bale it damp it will rot. Not so for what is called “bailage”. This is grass which is cut then baled straight away and wrapped in air tight plastic. The bales ferment turning into something akin to vinegar. Cattle love it, the cow hands at the 7,600 acre Eldon Farms in Rappahannock County say they even lick up the juice from the plastic and the ground.

In the past sillage was made by lifting grass or corn stalks into the anerobic (i.e. oxygen free) environment of the silo. Sillage can also be made by shoveling forage into a pit into the ground and covering it with plastic and tires. Or you can just bag up some green grass in a plastic bag and wrap it up tight.

Jim Bowen farms wheat, cattle, and hay on 3,700 acres of land in Culpeper owned by the Germans. He has been working here since 1981. His farm is well-known throughout the state having hosted the annual Virginia Ag Expo which is the largest event in the state for row crop farmers. Jim is well-positioned to explain why there are no more silos.

Standing in front of an enormous 8-tire 248 horsepower tractor in front of empty silos and functioning grain elevators Jim explains what he does here.

“I have silos and grain bins and grain elevators I don't use the silos. Mostly what we do is we use it grain for sale corn and to store [soy] beans for grain.”

For his cattle he says, “All I feed is hay but I feed sillage hay. I use ballage which is sillage wrapped in plastic. You can make the hay at 50% moisture. All I do is cut it and bail it.  No need to dry it. With ballage you can bale it the next day.Wrapped it tight and it ferments. Used to be, to make a bag you would push 50 rolls into a bag and you would cut a little slit it in but now you don't have to do that because we wrap it so tight. Almost all dairy farmers use silage.  It is a great feed. Pits work the same way. You put the sillage into pits and you pack it as you put it in. Cover it up and keep the air out. Uncover it as you feed it. So it won't turn into compost you need to pack it good. You don't want air to get all in it.” He says most sillage pits are made of concrete..

Jim says, “You can make hay and sillage out of winter rye. Its a real early crop its almost ready now [April]”. At this time of the year area lawns and pastures are still grey from winter but rye and wheat feels are bright green especially if they have been fed nitrogen.

Asked about fertilizer he says, “I will put nitrogen on the wheat in the fall or early spring. I just put nitrogen on it last week. Last fall I bought nitrogen. I paid $450 per ton right now it is $200 per ton that costs 70 cents per unit—I can hardly make money at that”

Jim runs about 200 Angus cows. He put has 7 frost-free Merafont watering systems that use the temperature of the soil to keep themselves ice free even when it is below freezing. He says, “ I try to limit the grazing along my farm banks. I didn't want my cattle in the streams.”

When straw prices are high Jim sells straw but otherwise leaves in on the ground as he rotates to the next crop. Because of the crash in housing prices there is not much demand for straw now as few builders are seeding new lots.

“Hay” is forage which is cut wet, allowed to dry, then baled. “Straw” is wheat which is allowed to dry then cut after the combine has taken away the grain. Jim farms and sells orchard grass to area horse and cattlemens. They prefer that over alfalfa he says, “There's not many people who buy alfalfa. They don't want something which such high protein. Because most of these horses are not working. They get fat if you feed them alfalfa. Most horse people in this area like the 2ndcutting orchard grass which is a lot shorter and finer cut.”

Of the costs and revenue he says, “It probably cost me $70 year fertilizer on my orchard grass and I normally make 2 – 2.5 tons per acre of hay. Selling it for $45 per bale I am grossing $200 per acre and $45 for 800 an pound bale. I do some small bales too”.

Most of what Jim grows is corn and soybeans which is pretty much what most row crop farmers do and they collect a subsidy for that but Jim does not as this farm is foreign owned. Jim markets his grain to the chicken industry. I have written about two row crop farmers on this blog to date and both of them sell to Perdue. These chicken operations obviously buy a lot of area grain.

Jim says, “Everything you see here thats green here like that is wheat. Most of my wheat I sell to Perdue farms and it used for export out of Norfolk. I grow wheat corn soybeans rotation. I sell it by the bushel. 60 pounds to a bushel. I sell spot market and futures contract..”

Because of all the chicken farms in Harrisonburg and elsewhere there is a surplus of manure available for fertilizer. Jim says, “Right now chicken litter is $30 per ton just dumped on your farm. Contact Mount Pony Farm. They are brokers. Talk to Billy.”

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Flying to Patagonia

I am here in Puerto Montt near the bottom of Chile and consequently the bottom of the planet where the Pacific Ocean, which one normally thinks of as lying to the west, surrounds the peninsula here both in a southerly and westerly direction. The wind is howling and the rain blowing in this corner of Patagonia where rain falls some 300 days of the year.

My wife and I have left behind the dry climate of Santiago for a few days amongst what in Spanish they call “naturaleza”. Here there are not one but three volcanoes each higher than the next. The Volcan Osorno looms above the town of Puerta Varas reflected in the waters of the lake Lanquihue as if in a postcard. A postcard is in fact the only way we can see the top of the volcano today because of the cloud cover.

I've left the goat farm in the hands of a goatherd and the vineyard in the care of another farmer while I come here to both repair relations with my wife, who lives in Santiago, and look for work in the USA. Each day I answer emails from IT recruiters in the USA and talk on the phone with prospective employers using the wonderful program Skype. It's two cents per minute.

Today we are taking the ferry across to the island of Chiloe. You board a bus which for 7,000 pesos ($12) will take us to the town of Castro including the 45 minute board ride across the bay. Yesterday the ferries were shutdown because of the howling gale. So we braced against the rain and joined the legions of high school kids hanging out at the mall while I looked for a charger for the battery for my camera.

I find it amusing the the hostel where I am staying is located on the Avenue Salvador Allende and I am heading to Castro. My wife is a pinochenista or supporter of the dicator Pinochet who sacked the Marxist President Allende and took on the role of leader of the military junta. Emotions over this period of time run deep which I learned when I made the mistake of naming my second book “Wine Communism and Volcanoes”. I should have called it “The Gringo and the Harvest” because the winery owners here, who for the most part supported Pinochet, are embarrassed by their communist past and my book did not sell well here.

That does not matter now as I have written a new book with a larger publisher which I believe we will call “Virginia Wines from Grapes to Glass”. I turned in the last chapter friday—now the process of editing begins. So I have something to do to fill the days before I return to the grind of the daily corporate job.

Gricel, my wife, and I went to the office of Lan Chile airlines last week and looked for a promotion, cheap flights to wherever. We thought of the Valle del Luna in the desert to the North or Puntas Arenas which is at the bottom of the country. But both locations were too expensive so we settled on Puerto Montt which is no disappointment at all.

Two days ago we hired a van and went with a family from Valpairso and two single girls from Ecuador and Argentia to visit the volcano here and see the lake. As such things usually transpire by the end of the day we were all friends and had exchanged email addresses promising to share photos with people we will never see again.

Geography in this part of the world is large on a scale which is hard to imagine. Driving up to see the Saltos de Petrohue (Petrohue Rapids) we passed a lofty mountain that rose straight up into the horizon which the chauffer told us was the precordillera. The Andes here are called the “cordillera” and of course “ precordillera” would mean the foothills but in their towering immensity they are taller than anything we have in the well-eroded mountains of Virginia Appalachia. In Virginia we have little tiny trout swimming in the stream but in the stream here there are salmon roughly a meter in length, huge animals laying their eggs on their way back to the ocean.

After Puerto Montt we spend two days in Chiloe.  The strongest earthquake from recorded history rocked this region in 1960 sinking the coastline by a meter.  To get to Chiloe you take a bus which then takes a ferry across to the island.  It's a pleasant location with a cloud of sadness hanging over it for 9,000 people are unemployed having lost their jobs in the salmon farming business when a virus invaded the fisheries.  The fisheries are still closed after two years.

If you go to Chiloe visit Castro and there stop in and talk with the owner at Loco Tony's supermarket.  He is a retired fisherman from Maine.

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