What do you know about Chile? A year ago, all I knew was where Chile was located on a map. Over the course of my life, I have been lucky to travel to many places in the world but never to South America. However, in the spring of 2022, that all changed as I was asked to attend an export mission with U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) to Chile. That invitation set off an experience that has deepened my appreciation of the work that is being done on behalf of US dairy farmers in the export arena but also an appreciation of the Chilean dairy community and its people.
Chile is located on the west coast of South America. It has the Pacific Ocean on its western border and the Andes mountains to the east. Approximately 19 million people live in this long narrow country and most of them live around the capital of Santiago.
Chile is a developing country with a high-income economy. Agriculture is a large part of their economy. Due to a favorable climate, Chile produces a large amount of produce such as cherries, blueberries, peaches, and hazelnuts. Because of all the produce being grown in Chile, it is no surprise they also have a vibrant wine industry.
Along with a favorable climate to grow crops, Chile also has just under 4,000 miles of Pacific Ocean on their western border to help support a thriving seafood industry. Chile is the world’s second largest producer of salmon only behind Norway. With all the other agricultural products being produced in Chile, you can also find a thriving dairy sector. It is this established love of dairy as well as a free trade agreement with the United States that makes Chile a perfect partner for U.S. dairy products.
As the U.S. dairy community progresses on our path of continuous improvement, we find ourselves making more and more milk in an efficient yet sustainable manner. We need organizations like USDEC that help us move that milk outside of the United States. Mexico is the biggest importer of U.S. milk. We all know about China buying big and then cooling off. If we want to have a steady export market for our U.S. dairy community, we need to find new areas for our high value products. As an emerging market that already has a taste for dairy, Chile is a great place to plant the seeds for more export opportunities.
USDEC gave us a full schedule for the six-day visit. Our days had us visiting grocery stores, talking to culinary students, cooking demonstrations at Espacio Food Service show, meeting with Instagram influencers over lunch, and touring various dairy farms and processing facilities. The thread through all these events were the six dairy farmers, including myself, telling the story of US dairy farming. As we learned about the needs of the Chilean market, we were able to put a face and real story of dairy farming to people who can help share that story in Chile and beyond.
One of the biggest questions I get asked about USDEC’s trip to Chile is how will we know if it was successful? The reality is that I can’t tell you the answer. What I can tell you is that our delegation planted the seeds that hopefully will help build a lasting relationship.
We all know that exporting our product is vital and trips like this one are essential to telling the story of the US dairy farmer while finding new expanding markets for our product.