Without innovation there's no productivity improvement is the motto which has inspired three successful sheep farmers in the extreme south of Chile, and whose achievements the Agro-business section of El Mercurio describes in a long article.
Magallanes is Chile's main sheep farming region with an estimated number ranging between 1.5 and 2 million sheep distributed among 300 farmers.
Local abattoirs every year slaughter 600.000 sheep, which represent 9.000 tons of lamb and mutton, 3.000 of which prime lamb is exported at top value to the European Union. Wool production is in the range of 10.000 tons, half of which is exported industrialized as tops and the rest as greasy wool.
El Mercurio describes the three farmers as "emblematic" of a new generation of businessmen who understand that constant innovation and market monitoring is the key to success.
Jose Marín is a former electrical engineer and closely linked to the metal-mechanic industry who twenty years ago decided on a radical change of life.
Currently he manages 150.000 hectares of land not far from Punta Arenas, most of which belonging to his family and associates, with 130.000 sheep
His great innovation was the introduction of Merino to Magallanes.
"We decided on a drastic production change, we needed an animal with finer wool and the alternative of a lamb as good as the Corriedale which was the reference two decades ago", says Mr. Marin.
The second step was the meat Merino, lambs with greater weight at birth and which grow much faster.
Much of the success can be traced to his determination and the support from Chile's Development Corporation and the Agriculture Innovation Office which helped finance some of the innovations plus providing all the necessary assessment and technological information from the leading countries in the industry, New Zealand, Australia and Britain.
But Marin never stops. Three years ago he launched yet another project to further increase productivity: 80.000 echographies to test ewes are pregnant and how many have twins.
And currently he's involved in developing and expanding an abattoir, four miles from Punta Arenas, where with NZ technology, and ten million US dollars, he plans to slaughter 2.000 lambs per day, a considerable jump from the current 800.
Hugo Vera gave up his engineering studies and went back to work in the family's farm where he spent five years as simple labour learning all the possible different trades.
Fifteen years ago he was handed the administration of the family farm, 8.000 hectares, with 4.500 sheep in the Laguna Blanca area, fifty miles north of Punta Arenas.
"In a globalized world, innovation and competition are essential. My bet was biotechnology to improve productivity and obtain a unique product", confesses Vera who in 2001 went looking for a new breed.
He finally decided on the Dohne Merino and designed a five year project (estimated value 200.000 US dollars) which was 65% financed by the Chilean Agriculture Innovation Office.
He first imported 100 Dohne embryos from Australia and begun working on embryo implantation, super ovulation and the transfer of fresh embryos. Artificial insemination became his best partner. He implanted Australian embryos in Corriedale ewes which he then further multiplied with super ovulation.
Dohne, according to Vera has a double condition: plenty of wool in the range of 20 microns plus sturdy fast growing lambs. Depending on nutrition and climate fertility is high and lamb production ranges between 110 and 150%.
"Lambs increase 350 grams per day and in six months reach 50 kilos in good pasture", reveals Vera who expects to keep improving wool quality by continuing with breed crossing.
"Sure, financial resources are needed, but to make dreams come true, you need to invest time, energy, effort and permanent dedication".
The third farmer is Eduardo Doberti, 72, the most veteran of the three but who talks enthusiastically about innovation introduction and who's known as the "king of clover".
His 4.000 hectares farm with 7.000 sheep and 400 cattle is 70 miles north of Punta Arenas, in Rio Verde, next to the pre-cordillera area which is a rather rainy area. Seven years ago with help from the Development Corporation and the Innovation Office he began pasture improvement in 2.000 hectares, mainly clover.
"More weight and lean animals can be achieved with hybrids, but their potential depends on adequate feeding and this leads us to soil fertility", points out Doberti.
He was advised to spread fertilizers based on phosphate and sulfur components which helped to increase pasture production significantly. "An early pasture means lambs can make up to 300 additional grams per day", says Doberti.
The project involved an investment in the range of 200.000 US dollars and now he's ready to begin the improvement of another 2.000 hectares.
Doberti has also innovated in breeds by crossing Corriedale with Texel which make a difference in lamb weight, lean meat and precocity.
"Fortunately we realized it was imperative to innovate and we did so with three basic elements: the long experience from the Patagonia pioneer farmers; good Chilean scientific research crossed with foreign assessment and production development techniques", points out Doberti.