Day 3 of International Trip – February 27th

Escola Superior Agrária de Santarém

This polytechnic agricultural school is 130 years old.  There are 8 schools like this one in Portugal in order to cover all regions of the country.  It offers professional and applied teaching in agronomy, food technology, human nutrition, animal production, and environmental engineering.  The school currently has 700 students, who can obtain degrees at professional, graduate, and masters levels.  Students are given the opportunity for field visits and work study.

This 230 hectare school is unique for its Mediterranean climate (which accounts for 2% of the world’s land).  This climate is characterized by high temperatures and little to no rain during the summer, which can lead to very low productivity agriculture.  As a result, farmers in these climates must adapt to their environment by using a systems approach with a crop rotation that makes the most of the natural resources available.  The Montado rotation is characterized by the integration of multifunctionality.  In short, this includes controlling shrubs to prevent fires, improving pastures with forage crops, and feeding livestock.  This rotation helps restore soil productivity, improves the efficiency of water, improves air quality, and sustains high levels of biodiversity.  For farmers in this climate who want to intensify their production, they must resort to irrigation, which is costly but does allow for other crops (such as corn and rice) to be introduced into the rotation.

Companhia das Lezírias

This 18000 hectare farm is the largest agricultural, cattle, and forest farm in Portugal on marshland between the Tejo and Sorraia Rivers.  Dating back to 1836, it is owned by the federal government, and a portion of the farm is rented to tenant farmers.  The farm raises crops and livestock including horses, cattle, rice, olive trees, cork, eucalyptus, and grapes.  There are close to 100 employees, and no processing occurs on the farm (except for a winery).

One of the new crops we were introduced to at the farm was cork.  A cork tree is a type of oak, and Portugal is the leading exporter of cork.  This farm has 6700 hectares of cork trees.  Each tree is harvested for the first time after about 30 years with an expectation that the tree will reach full production potential after about 50 years.  Harvests occur every nine years, and single digit numbers painted on the tree indicate when the tree was last harvested (and when it will next be harvested).  In the life of a tree, it will be harvested 17 to 18 times.  Extracted during the summer months, cork harvest requires highly skilled workers who are among the highest paid agricultural workers in the world.  The tree is retired after 170 years.  Cork trees are protected by law and can only be cut down once they have been proven to be dead.  For more information on how cork is processed, be sure to visit the ALP Class 17 blog for Day 4 to learn about our visit to the largest cork manufacturer in the world.