Day 13: US Embassy Madrid

On our last full day in Spain, ALP17 visited the US Embassy in Madrid. We were met again by our FAS attaché, Rachel Bickford, who provided us with an overview of Spain’s Agricultural production. Spain’s unique climate and geography position it as a the fruit and vegetable basket for much of Europe. It has also continued to invest heavily in it’s commercial pork production and is a world power in pork exports.

Following Rachel, Marta Guerrero described the governmental support systems for agriculture in Spain. Generally, agriculture commodities in Spain receive subsidies depending on whether they are competitive in the global market or not. Pork, fruit and vegetables are generally less supported, while less competitive crops like cereals and rice are more. Payment structures have evolved over time, but the current program focuses on historical land use and per hectare payments.

We then heard from a pair of diplomatic staff members at the embassy. Christopher Quade is in charge of cultural affairs, Denise Chen is the Deputy Political officer. Their focus is on advancing United States’ interest in Spain. They shared some of the nuances of being a diplomat in a foreign country and what some of the United States’ priorities are regarding the United States relationship with Spain.

We closed the visit with Frank Talluto an economic officer at the embassy focusing on science, technology, and the environment. He gave us valuable insights on the Spanish economic recovery following the crisis of the 2000s, the consumer banking system and how Spanish schedules do and do not mesh with the rest of Europe’s and the world’s.

After great discussion, we had lunch at a historic Madrid restaurant, Los Galayos, where we toasted to our US embassy hosts and bid our tour guide Eduardo adios!

Day 12: Sunaran and Cordoba

Today, we drove about an hour out of Cordoba to visit a citrus cooperative. This cooperative, named Sunaran was established in 1995 and is made up of 95 member citrus growers. The citrus producers are located alongside the Valley of Guadalquivir, a unique place with wonderful climate conditions and fertile lands that make it possible to produce high quality fruit.

Sunaran’s citrus production has a great variety of products including navel oranges, clementines, white citrus fruits and grapefruit, exceeding 50,000 tons in a year. The facility we visited does all the packing, processing and distribution for their members over six months from October to June and hires up to 250 employees during its peak production times.

Outside of its local Spanish markets, the majority of its fresh whole fruit exports go to the Netherlands, with additional distribution to Korea, China, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia and Canada. The fruits go to supermarkets and hotels in these countries. Exports are somewhat limited by regulations on sugar content in some countries, meaning that if the oranges aren’t as sweet as a country expects, they will be rejected.

They customize their packaging according to customer specifications. While Sunaran does have their own brand, some customers choose to customize their packages with their brand. Speaking of packaging, Sunaran has the ability, equipment and the labor to package citrus in one of three ways: netted bags, boxes, or bulk packaging.


While on the tour, we saw fruits being separated by size and appearance. Anything that did not meet quality standards is sent to be made into juice or animal feed.

After our visit, the group traveled back to Cordoba to enjoy an afternoon exploring the historic city center for a couple hours before catching a high-speed Ave train to Madrid.

Day 11: Dairy & Noli

Brooke: Day 11 brought a lot of excitement for ALP class 17. We learned a lot about adaptability, and thank you to Elanco for helping us to experience a 1,000 head dairy farm on short notice. Levasa is a full service dairy from calving to bottling to cheese production. They are currently milking 400 cows daily and have an additional 600 head in the calf to 2 years of age.

Hans: *singing* I, I DON’T WANT TO SAY IT.

Brooke: What? Anyway, the dairy industry in Spain is experiencing many of the same issues we see in the US today. Low milk prices, around $0.32 Euro per liter, have forced farms to change the way in which they do business. It is estimated that around 2,000 farms have gone out of business already in the area. Francis Martinez has adapted to the current times to provide a value added product. His milk is around 4% fat and sold directly to restaurants and hotels as end users. He is able to eliminate any middle man by pasteurizing and packaging his own milk. He sells in three difference varieties; 2%, whole, and lactose free milk. The three different varieties add up to 6,000 liters of milk produced per day.


Brooke: Stop it. Another way Francis has also adapted is by packaging and aging his own cheese. The cheese produced is a mixture of cow, goat and sheep milk. They buy goat and sheep milk from the surrounding area to bring their total liters of milk handled up to 80,000 per week. The process of making cheese takes about 17 months before a block is ready for sale. It will spend 8-10 months in the curing chamber and finish off in the next room where they apply olive oil to the outside for coloring and added taste.


Brooke: Seriously. Genetic selection and adaption of technology have also help Levasa to stay profitable over the years. They are selecting genetics that help to increase production as well as breeding for confirmation of the cow. One issue they are hoping to solve with this breeding technique is more correct sets of feet and legs. On the technology side, Francis has installed a 30 head rotary parlor. This allows 2 men to milk 30 head of cattle at a time. This visit was finished off with a cheese and milk tasting.


Brooke: Why are you doing this? In the afternoon the group traveled West to Noli an equipment manufacturer, one of three large manufacturers in Spain. They specialize in the production of farming equipment. They have been in business since the 1950s and have had to adapt to the changing landscape of ag in Spain. They have had to cut back from around 90 employees to about 50 since the 2007 recession.


Brooke: I’m trying to blog here! Their big sales have been in the area of olive and almond pickers. With the slowing income from grains in Spain the market has turned to more production from trees. They also have a new planter they have designed will allow for a hopper on the front of the tractor that feeds seed to the back. With the hilly landscape of Southern Spain this allows for farmers to be more efficient when planting and refilling seed.


Brooke: What do you have to add, Hans?

Hans: What? Oh, sorry. You told them about the cows?

Brooke: Yes.

Hans: You told them about the olive shakers?

Brooke: Yes.

Hans: You told them about how 90’s pop music seems to pervade many of the places we’ve been, getting Jon Secada’s “Just Another Day” stuck in my head for over a week?

Brooke: You’re the worst.

Hans: Thank you!

Brooke and Hans: The class took away a greater knowledge of what goes into making these large tools. Noli manufactures all parts of their equipment down to the bearings. We observers everything from the cutting of steal down to the painting of the end product.

Day 10 – March 6 Granada

We woke up this morning in Velila Taramay to a 7:39AM sunrise on the Mediterranean Sea.

Sunrise over Mediterranean

Our first tour of the day began 700 meters above sea level at Hacienda Senorio de Nevada winery looking at the Sierra Nevada snow top mountains. This is a small winery beginning in 1996. Their high quality wines begin with a soil rich in minerals and a climate where the grapes ripen between 17 and 25 degrees Celsius.
ALP Class 17 in front of the snowy mountain top.

ALP Class 17

The vineyard is placed on 21 hectares with 16 of those in vineyards.
It is traditional for women to harvest all the grapes which occurs between September and October. They have tried to export to the United States but it is difficult because of the taxes.
We finished our tour with an opportunity to taste the wine.

Our next tour took us to the Alhambra Palace in Granada. The fortress was originally constructed in the 11th century with its current walls and structure coming in the 13th century when the Moores came in. The palaces have Arabic architecture in all three palaces.

Day 9: Olive Oil Milling & Greenhouse Produce – March 5th

Today we traveled from Antequera to Malaga to Motril, across the southern coast of Spain. We moved through rural countryside and small towns, to Malaga – a city of roughly 569,000 people – and then back on the coastal highway to experience the ever-changing landscape of mountains, mango trees and expansive Mediterranean Sea views.

Our morning destination was OleoAlgaidas, a part of the Dcoop Group, which started in 1951 and now consists of 1,000 members with approximately 7,000 hectares of trees. They added the oil plant in 2000. OleoAlgaidas produces 12-15% of the world production of olive oil, while the facility is in operation from November to March. Last year they produced 5,000 tons of oil. This is highly dependent on the rain and weather patterns. In top years they can produce 10,000 tons. The Dcoop Group has an annual membership fee and farmers must sell all of their product to the cooperative, but do not receive a paid patronage. 75% of olive oil sector is in this cooperative-type system.

We were introduced to the chief of the coop, Vidau Rreda, who showed us everything from the receiving lines to the end product. Olives first are received at one of eight receiving lines, where they are separated by variety and quality. While there are over 60 different varieties of olives, the three basic commercial types are blanca (90%), picual and arbequina. The quality of an olive is based on if it is harvested from the tree or collected from the ground. Ground olives are low quality, but will likely not make extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) status. They process 5,000 tons of olives daily. Olives consist of water, solids and oil, of which oil is 18-22%. They separate these components using only physical processes (such as the hammer mill), not chemical. That then yields a paste, that they turn and heat lightly to 27-28 degrees Celsius. The oil is contained in the membranes and can only be released with heat. They enter two sets of centrifuges, horizontal which separates by mass – and vertical, which clarifies the oil. This is extra virgin olive oil! EVOO is just the first oil and only comes from clean and dry olives from the fields. Oil is then stored fr 48 hours, with a little heat, which allows the solids to settle out. They purge the solids every two hours until the oil is only liquid. They separate the pits in the subproduct, which they use for energy at their own mills. The remainder is moved to lower quality, non-consumption mills, where they use chemical separation and high heat to extract the last 4% of oil from the olive subproduct.

Then we traveled from Malaga, a harbor city where we spent time sightseeing and eating lunch. From Malaga, we saw mango, avocado and anona trees. Some were in open, terraced land production, with others under greenhouse plastic. This land was traditionally an area for sugarcane, but has pretty much all transitioned to fruit and veggie production. This coastal area is considered the “salad bar of Europe” because of its extremely high biomass.

Our afternoon tour was at Bio Procam, a fruit and vegetable producer and packager. The field technician and ag engineer, Eduardo Malanado, greeted us and showed us around the greenhouse facilities. Irrigation is controlled from a central computer, in a building next to the greenhouses. Plants receive water for 20 minutes every two days. Water comes in from the Sierra Nevadas mountain range and is filtered for use. With this system, one person can control 10 hectares of land.

Bio Procam began 30 years ago and was the first of firsts for organic production. We saw two different greenhouse facilities, the first was cucumbers at their end stage. They also planted cabbage and wheat underneath the vertical cucumber vines. The cabbage was planted to remove salt from the soil. The wheat was infected with aphids to provide a food source for a small wasp species that serves as natural pest control for the entire facility. They also have bait boards for red spider mites, thrips and white flies. White flies are the most problematic due to reproducing a new generation every 72 hours during summer months. The facilities are double roofed to help keep heat in from the sun, which shines 320 days a year here in this region and provide air movement. They white wash the outside of the plastic to reflect the sun, which is most important during the hot summer heat. They change the plastic every three years. After the cucumbers are harvested, they will plant yellow melons for the next 60 days. Following the melons they will plant mustard seeds and radish for biofermagation (natural disinfectant). And lastly in September they will begin the wheat, cabbage, cucumber rotation again.


The second greenhouse we visited was one of tomatoes, the Normande variety from South France. This is a salad tomato which is red with green patches and matures from the inside out. It is preferred because of its strong tomato taste and sells for $1.40/kg in Europe. Approximately 150,000 kilograms (kg) of tomatoes are harvested per hectare. Tomatoes are harvested daily, as customers require produce to be delivered within 72 hours of harvest.

After the field tours, our group had an opportunity to go to the packaging plant. Here Eduardo and Sergio, the plant manager guided us through several different produce varieties and packaging options. Due to the current time of year, approximately 50% of the produce received will not make first choice, the remainder will go to industry and food banks to feed two million Spaniards (of the 45 million total population). The plant has one shift consisting of 5 hours, a break and then the remaining 3 hours, Monday through Saturday. They are the only plant in this region that allows for the break, which is conducive to family balance. They employee 20-120 people depending on the season. During our tour Eduardo and Sergio showed us cucumbers, California style (red bell) peppers, round tomatoes, eggplant, squash, mango, beans, zucchini and avocado. The plant processes 10 million kg of fruits (40%) and vegetables (60%) each year for 70-80 customers – large European chains and small Spanish supermarkets. Eduardo explained packaging is various and is customized based on customer demand.

Our group ended our busy day in Almunecar, enjoying the sunset from our hotel on the beachfront of the Mediterranean Sea.

Day 8 – March 4th

Antequera Dolmenes

We left Seville and traveled east towards Antequera. On the way we stopped by Alfonso Alcaide’s ceramic business in La Rambla. Alfonso shapes the clay pottery and his wife, daughter and employees hand paint the pottery. The pottery is then fired in his kiln one or two times and sold. Alfonso ships his pottery all over the world. He even has a website where you can purchase his pottery and have it shipped to the states at Alfonso gave our class a chance to try our hand at the turning wheel!

Alfonso’s majic hands at work!

We left La Rambla and continued on to Antequera. During the road trip we went from relatively flat fertile valley fields that were growing vegetables and grains to hilly/mountainous terrain that was mainly used for vineyards and orchards.

Our next stop was Conjunto Arqueologico Dolmenes De Antequera, which was originally used as burial chambers. There were two Dolmenes(Stone underground chambers). One of the chambers had a dug well that was believed to possess healing powers.


Next we headed to the center of the town of Antequera for lunch and had the afternoon to explore.

Bull ring in Antequera

Day 6: Iberian Pigs & Hams and the Cathedral

Tucked away in the southwest of Spain in the town of Huelva is ei`riz – an Iberian ham and loin progressing plant which includes a small acorn-fed outdoor swine farm. The piglets born today in their system will have product ready in 5-6 years.

Raising Iberian Pigs
There are very specific government standards to raise pigs and label them as Iberian pigs. The most referred-to standard is that the pigs must be fed acorns to develop the unique flavor for at least 2 months (between October and February), but there are other DO (overseeing government body) requirements such as minimum of 1 hectare (ha) per animal which is in place to ensure the pigs can eat 10-13 kg of acorns per day. Half the acorns come from alcornoque (bitter) and half come from encina (sweet) oak trees that are shaken daily to knock acorns off the trees.

Unlike the rest of Spain, in this part of the pigs can be kept outside because of the moderate temperatures and the lack of predators (wolves were hunted out by the 70s). Besides the acorns, the animals are supplemented every day with corn. No minerals or vitamins are used because it was stated those nutrients are obtained from the environment and wallowing in the mud and scratching on the trees controls the parasites. This farm gets their 13 pigs after weaning at 2 months and raise them until they are around 400lbs for 2 years; most in Spain are around a year old prior to slaughter. All pigs receive 3 different injections (vaccinations) to control prevalent diseases.

Sadly, the 2 month old pigs were not located during the visit, but we made memories hiking around in the cool, refreshing downpour looking for them.

Come out, come out where ever you are, little piggies

The company slaughters theirs and ~2000 others from 15 other farmers each year at a local progressing facility. All they keep are the loin and front and back legs. The rest of the animal is left with the plant to cover the processing costs. Each piece is tagged to identify home farm and individual animal and graded using the Iberian grading system- black (premium), red and green (typical Iberian products), and white.

Processing & Marketing
The plant makes Iberian ham, sausage, and loins using historical practices in a facility with a traditional natural flora to create the unique flavor. (See loin recipe below). The famous hams are salted with Atlantic salt and still turned by hand for a total of 15 days before being washed placed in a cooler that slowly raises the temperature from 0-7C over 7-10 days. The hams are then hung for 6-7 months to dry in ambient temperatures before being moved to the bottom levels for the next 1.5-2 years since the top rooms get too warm. There is an official Iberian ham grading system and is denoted by black, red, green, or white attached tags. Over 70% of ei`riz’s product is sold in Spain with the remainder sold throughout Europe. Most retailers and individuals buy Iberian product during the first part of the year for the entire year and freeze because it is too warm in the summer to process the product properly. Because of phytosantiary restrictions they are not approved to ship to the USA.

The guide Jesus talking about the unique micro-climate at their facility which makes their product unique

The company also has daily field trip packages which in addition to seeing the pigs and the process one can include a fabulous ‘gastronomic journey’ in which you can learn the proper way to slice an Iberian ham, compare between different types of hams, and enjoy many courses of meat, bread, cheese, and local wine. (Class ALP17 highly recommends the entire experience).

Enjoying the ham, cheese, and wine after the tour and cutting demonstrations.

Special thanks to Jesus, Belen, Patricia, and the owner Senor Domingo Martin (aka The Ham Master) for a great experience!

Part of Class 17 going with the hairnet and frock look after hunting for pigs in the rain earlier

ei`riz Traditional Iberian Loin

Beef Intestine Casing

1. Marinate loin in the desired amount at paprika and salt (need at least 5% to help in preservation of the product for 6 days at 2C.
2. Wash the product.
3. Chill the loins for 10 days at 10C
4. Stuff the loin in the intestine (preferably with the cool machine they have)
5. Hang the cased loin for 7-10 days in cooler going from 0-7C
6. Slice thinly when ready to consume.

The Seville Cathedral

The day’s tour concluded at the Cathedral- the one of the world’s largest churches. Christopher Columbus’s tomb, ornate representations of biblical stories and fascinating history are scattered throughout the cathedral. Add it to your list of must visits in Spain, and make sure to walk up the ramps to see the view from the top of the bell tower.

Thanks for continuing to follow our #ALP17 international experiences here on the blog and online with #ALP17.

Day 7 International Trip – March 3rd

We were able to avoid the rain in the morning as we started the day off at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Sevilla. To start, there were many paintings about the Church, Bible, and Saints. As we continued through the galleries there were many ancient paintings of Sevilla from the 15th and 16th century. Many of these paintings showed festivals or parades during this time period and some of the buildings in the pictures still stand today and we have had the opportunity to see them on the trip. Last, we visited the gallery commemorating Murillo, a famous Spanish artist. The gallery opened recently and will remain available for a 10-year span.

After the art museum, we made the one hour and fifteen-minute trip south to Jerez. We stopped by Jerez, a town of 25,000, for lunch and to observe a local market. The market is only open on Saturdays from 8:30-2:00 had has a wide variety of items available. The majority of the market goods were food items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, and herbs. However, there was a section of the market that had clothing items as well as leather bags, shoes, and flowers. The town of Jerez had a wide selection of small cafes and restaurants to choose from for lunch. One item that stood out to all of us was the aggressive tactics used by store clerks and restaurant employees to draw in business.

To finish off the day we visited Jose Estevez wine and spirits. The winery was established in 1809 where they aged Sherry and Brandy and was originally known as Jose Lena Rendon and Co. They grow one type of grape on the farm and that is the palomino grape. From this they make 4 different types of Sherry, two that are dry and two that are sweet. The Sherry is kept in 25-28 degree Celsius during the aging process and 70-80% humidity. During this process, the Sherry is aged in 600-liter American Oak barrels and all of the barrels are older. They never age the Sherry in new barrels as it changes the flavor of what is desired. Some of the Sherry is aged for 20-30 years. We were able to visit two of the winery aging buildings. One of them was the largest on the farm which contained 26,000 barrels.

In addition to the winery, the farm also specializes in breeding Pure Bred black Spanish horses. These horses average a price tag of 200,000 euro. The horses are for hoppy and used for pulling 18th and 19th century carriages at different shows around Spain. In addition to the horses we had the opportunity to view the farms art gallery. To say the gallery was impressive is an understatement as the main attraction was 100 Picasso paintings there were bought at an auction. It was unknown what was paid for the impressive display.

Once the tour was complete we all met in their reception hall for a wine tasting of three of their Sherry products. Their products sell for 15-300 euro per bottle with an overall average of 80 euro.

After the tasting we boarded the bus and headed back to Seville for an evening to enjoy the city. Some members went to dinner and walked around town, while others attended Saturday evening mass or a flamenco show.

Day 4: Cork, Portugal, and Car Movers

Lunch break walk through the town of Coruche
where the cork factory is located.

In Indiana we have corn and soybean fields throughout the state. In Portugal, there aren’t corn or soybeans, but there are cork trees and they are incredible. Cork trees are grown in only a handful of countries around the world, Portugal has the most trees. They have 34% of the trees around the world and 50% of the production. We visited the Amorim Florestal company near Coruche our tour guide’s name was Joanna, she was a chemical engineer. It is the largest cork manufacturer in the world. Wine corks are the most important product, the best cork is used for expensive wines. What isn’t used for wine corks is made into other products, including Birkenstocks.

Another fun fact, cork harvesters are the best paid agricultural employees in Portugal. It is a very specialized skill. Harvest only lasts for a few weeks and cork harvesters will make more in that time than they do for the rest of the year.

Now you’re excited about cork and want buy in and get your own trees, right? Well you can start buying, but you will probably be buying for your grandchildren. Most people in Portugal who have cork tree farms inherited them. A saying in Portugal is that “you work with the cork you grandparents left you and plant more cork trees for your grandchildren.” It takes 5 years and a tree that is 70cm in diameter to harvest the tree. Once a tree is harvested it can continue to be harvested every 9 years. A tree will get harvested between 11 and 16 times in it’s lifetime. Cork trees will live to be over 200 years old.

How is a cork harvested? Have he bark is extrapolated from the tree, it sits outside for a year for the sap to fully dry. The wet sap is what allows the bark to be separated from the tree. After sitting for a year, the cork is boiled and flattened. Boiling makes the cells larger, makes the product more elastic, and enables it cork to be flattened. Then the cork is graded and put into 6 categories but human graders. 1 is the best score. Wine corks use 1,2,3,4 and the best wine uses 1 maybe a 2. The wines that use the 1s or 2s are usually at least a $150 bottle of wine.

After the cork factory the group went to a cereal producer who buys raw products from Portuguese farmers and creates packaged products for niche markets. The owner did not speak English. There was a young woman there who did, but did not feel her English was good enough to translate, so the owner drove to the village to pick up someone who could translate. The products ranged from rice, to dried fruit, to barley. It is sold only at small shops. 30% of the raw products that come in go to human food, the other 70% go to animal products. They produce 1,000 tons of human products each year.

Problem solving, how to get a bus down a street.

After the two tours, the group went to dinner in Evora, a small town in Portugal close to the Spanish border. Dinner was fun, but the really interesting part was after dinner. The bus carrying the group could not get down a street because a car was blocking the street slightly. So a group of for of the men got off the bus to lift and move the car. It was an interesting ending to a really great day!

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.