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Trip provides New York agriculture producers insight into Chilean practices

Twenty-seven New York agricultural leaders from all segments of the industry recently embarked on a seven-day international agricultural study trip to Chile. The trip was organized by Class XI of LEAD New York, a professional leadership development program administered through Cornell University.

Chile was picked as the destination of choice for the Class XI international study trip because of its diverse agricultural industry and growing economy. Chile has many modern technology and production practices, along with a trade surplus based largely on strong agricultural exports that presented the class many opportunities from which to learn. The class also enjoyed learning about Chile's diverse geography and climate, which present both challenges and opportunities for the country.

"You can talk all you want about agriculture in other parts of the world, but until you see it, feel it, taste it, experience it for yourself, you really can't fully understand the depth of this industry," Larry Van De Valk, LEAD-NY director, said in a press release. "The class' experience in Chile opened their eyes to a kind of agricultural entrepreneurship that doesn't necessarily require a lot of money or technology but does entail a great deal of pride in one's country."

"We want to thank The Produce News for supplying LEAD-NY Class XI with copies of its January 1, 2007 edition that focused on the Chilean fresh fruit industry. The publication provided an excellent preview to the many facets of Chile's fresh produce industry that we were able to see and experience."

LEAD-NY Class XI departed Feb. 10 for Santiago and returned Feb. 18. Over the course of seven days, LEAD New York Class XI met with numerous agricultural and government officials and toured many agricultural and Chilean operations. Specifically, they met with U.S. Ambassador Craig Kelly and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. They toured an export fruit packinghouse, an agricultural experiment station, a winery, the world's largest copper mine, a dairy farm, an apple orchard, and an organic fruit and vegetable operation.

With the Andes Mountains to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Antarctica to the south and a desert to the north, Chile has a natural environment that protects crops and livestock from disease. This unique situation enables Chile to produce an abundance and diversity of high-quality produce, forestry and livestock products. Since much of the country is relatively poor, most of its high-end production is exported.

Chile is the leading exporter of table grapes and plums, and is also a leading exporter of apples, timber, wine, salmon and avocados. Over 40 percent of Chile's exports go to the United States.

From a professional development standpoint, the Chile trip was designed to take class members out of their "comfort zones" and to allow them to experience a different culture. By visiting a South American country, class members were able to compare and contrast New York agriculture to another part of the world, analyze competitive advantages and disadvantages, and see all aspects of agriculture (production, processing, marketing, labor issues, environmental issues and trade) from a new and different perspective. The study trip also served as a culmination of all the lessons learned during LEAD New York's two-year program, including analytical and critical thinking, listening and decision-making.

The trip to Chile was sponsored by the American Agriculturist Foundation and the Agway Foundation. This is the first time LEAD New York has gone to a South American country. Other international study destinations organized by LEAD New York include England, the Netherlands, Mexico and Canada. LEAD New York consists of 50 days of seminars, workshops and field travel experiences both in and out of New York state, including a weeklong international study trip like this one to Chile. It is designed for women and men who provide leadership to the food and agricultural industry. The program focuses on leadership skill development, civic engagement, a greater understanding of agricultural issues and cultivating leadership networks.

Currently, there are 313 LEAD New York alumni. These individuals serve in local, state and federal government positions, not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions.

As one LEAD New York alum stated, "LEAD New York was an eye-opening experience for me. I not only made lifelong friends, I also learned key skills that have proved useful throughout my career. LEAD New York changed my perspective and has helped me be a more knowledgeable advocate for agriculture."