Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


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Dr. Raúl R. Vera


1. Introduction
The Country
Land area, arable and pastoral areas
The ruminant sector
Land tenure
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
Climate and agro-ecological zones
Climate of the Mediterranean region
The Southern plains
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. The Pasture Resource
Mediterranean region
Mediterranean sown pastures
The Southern plains
Patagonian pastures
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Fodder Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts
10. Author


The Country
Chile, on the south-west, Pacific coast of South America, is a narrow strip of land extending North-South, with a maximum width of 420 kilometres which covers 2,006,096 km2, of which only 756,626 km2 are continental whereas the reminder is the Chilean Antarctic (see Figure 1). The Chilean Antarctic begins at 60º S. Chile borders with Peru to the North, Bolivia to the NE, Argentina to the East, and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Its southern limit is the South Pole. The Andean Mountains which run North - South separate Chile from Argentina and Bolivia. The highest elevation is the Ojos del Salado at 6,864 metres.

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Figure 1. Location of Chile

Most of the agriculturally useful land is between sea level to a few hundred metres. The majority of this land is in the depression bordered by the Andes to the east, and the much lower Coastal range that runs parallel and close to the Pacific Ocean. These two ranges create a central depression that runs North -South for much of continental Chile and gives rise to fairly level valleys.

The human population in 2002 amounted to 15,600,000, including 67.6 percent mestizos, 29.5 percent Europeans and 2.9 percent indigenous people (According to the World Factbook est. July 2006 population was 16,134,219 with a growth rate of 0.94%). This represents a density of 20.6 persons/km2. In common with many other Latin American countries, the population is highly urbanized (86 percent in 2000), and its rate of growth over the last decade has averaged 1.1 percent annually. The gross national income in 2000 was US$ 5,350 per capita and the human development index for 1999 was estimated at 0.825 ranking Chile in thirty-ninth place among the countries surveyed (UNDP, 2001).

Agricultural activities in Chile are relatively less important than those of its neighbours. In fact, over the period 1996-2001, the agricultural gross domestic product has represented 4.0 to 4.2 of the total GDP. The main contributors to agricultural GDP (1990-97 average) are fruit (29 percent ), livestock (27 percent ), crops (17 percent ), vegetables (14 percent ) and forestry (13 percent ). During the last decade there have been major changes in the relative importance of these activities; notable changes (1998 relative to 1988) include increases in vineyards (47 percent ), flowers and horticultural crops (30 percent ), fruit (21 percent ), and "improved" pastures (i.e., fertilized native pastures that may have been sod-seeded with introduced species, 42 percent ), and decreases in annual crops (-28 percent ), and native "unimproved" grasslands (-13 percent ) among others. "Improved" pastures are most common in the southern end of Chile where a temperate climate predominates. This is a mixed group of pastures most of which were originally sown with introduced species and that have since been colonized to various degrees by native and naturalized species; the group also includes pastures where Trifolium repens or Lotus corniculatus were successfully sod-seeded.

Chile is a net exporter of poultry, pork and a small amount of lamb, whereas it is a net importer of beef (US$ 218,100,000 in 2003) and powder milk (US$ 28,000,000). Nevertheless, small amounts of beef began to be exported to Israel and Cuba in 2002, a trend that it is anticipated will continue for beef and cow milk. Including imported beef and cow milk, the availability per capita of these two products in 2000 was 22.3 and 128 kg respectively. The corresponding figure for sheep meat was 0.5 kg/capita.

Land area, arable and pastoral areas
Administratively, Chile is divided into 12 regions, numbered I to XII in a N-S direction, plus the metropolitan region of Santiago, its capital city (See Figure 2 for location of regions and their respective capitals). From an agricultural point of view, regions IV to X are the most important, but there is also an important grassland area in the XII, or Patagonian, region (see Figure 3).

The following map (Figure 2) shows the twelve administrative regions of Chile.

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Figure 2. Administrative regions of Chile
[Click to view full map]

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Figure 3. The seven major economic regions of Chile and their main agricultural use.

General land use classes and their sizes are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Land use classes of Chile (CONAF-CONAMA-BIRF, 1999)

Land use class

Area, hectares

Urban and industrial areas


Agricultural lands


Native pastures and shrublands






Note : Includes data for all XII regions; several other non agricultural classes excluded

Given the desertic climate of Chile’s extreme North and the cold, harsh climate of the South, the bulk of the agricultural activities takes place in regions III to X. These activities, their relative importance and temporal trends are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Percentage (percent) of land area covered by different agricultural activities in regions III to X.


percent of total land area of regions III to X





Intensive use
Annual crops




Fruit crops and vineyards




Horticulture and flowers




Sown pastures








Total intensive use




Extensive use
Improved pastures




Native pastures




Total extensive pastures




Total intensive + extensive pastures









Pasture area, hectares

Sown pastures




Improved pastures




Native pastures




Total area of pastures




The ruminant sector
The ruminant sector of Chile makes a smaller contribution to economic activities than in most neighbouring countries, despite the fact that pastures constitute a major land use, and that the livestock sector is the second largest contributor to agricultural GDP. Nevertheless, prospects for its growth should be excellent since the country has historically been free of foot-and-mouth disease and because of this, and of a number of international treaties, it has potential access to high value markets.

The production of ruminant products over the period 1995-2005 is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Production of ruminant products in Chile, metric tons, 1995-2005.
[Source: FAO databases, 2006]









2002 2003 2004 2005
Beef & Veal








Mutton & lamb
Cow Milk,
Whole, Fresh








Goat Meat








Goat Milk








Wool, Greasy









Chile has been a net importer of beef and milk. The imports of beef and veal amounted to 50-120,000 metric tons per year over the 1995-2003 period, and that of dairy products ranged between 95,000 and 260,000 metric tons per year.

The number of ruminant animals over that period did not suffer major changes, except for a 10 percent increase in cattle and a similar loss of sheep (although long term sheep numbers have declined steadily from in excess of 6M in the early 1980s) and increases in goats, horses and pigs. Livestock data for selected years 1990 to 2005 are shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Livestock in Chile.
[Source: FAO databases, 2006]

Type of animal 1990 1995 2000



2003 2004 2005









The cattle stock is made up of European breeds, with Holstein dominating among dairy cattle. The beef cattle are more heterogeneous and include Hereford, a number of continental breeds, Holstein male calves and steers and numerous crossbreds. Common sheep breeds include Corriedale, Merino and numerous crosses with Blackfaces, but there are active ongoing programmes for the introduction of European milking and meat sheep breeds among others.

Land Tenure
Land tenure in Chile is less skewed than in most Latin American countries, as shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Land tenure in Chile. Based on 276,000 farm units. Modified from Delahaye (1996)

Farm size, ha

percent of total farms

percent of total area










> 80




Given the proximity of the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, soil development throughout Chile has been heavily influenced by geology, geomorphology and volcanic activity. These factors and the steep slopes originating in the Andes which run towards the Pacific Ocean imply that soils have limited development in depth and are relatively young. Soil variability reflects the ample range of geologic formations that have originated them. The subject has been reviewed among others, by Honorato (1993) and soils in the different agro-ecological regions are identified in the following section (Table 6). A soils map is available on the internet.

In the highlands of the Andes, above 3,500 metres soils are generally superficial Inceptisols, which are frequently stony, have low organic matter around 2 percent and pH 6.8-8.8, and support scarce vegetation.

In the arid regions between latitudes 20 and 32ºS soils are generally considered fairly degraded due to overgrazing and fuel wood extraction. These variable soils belong to the Aridisol, Alfisol and Entisol orders.

All along the Andes mountains, between regions III and IX, and at altitudes that tend to decrease somewhat towards the southern end, Entisols predominate in the northern half of the area, whereas Andisols (derived from volcanic ashes and rich in organic matter) dominate the southern half. These soils frequently support summer ranges used for goat (in the north) and sheep (in the south) grazing.

Along parts of the Central and Southern coast of continental Chile, soils derived from metamorphic and other rocks are common (Alfisols), and are intermixed with those derived from volcanic ashes (Andisols, "trumaos"). The strip of land running N to S in Central and South Chile (regions III to X) developed under the influence of glaciers and alluvial events, and includes a considerable range of different soils that constitute the main basis of agricultural activities in the country. South of 42ºS soils derived from volcanic ash ("trumaos") dominate the central area, where they alternate with poorly drained, more superficial soils locally known as "ñadi", while red clayey ultisols are typical of the Coastal areas. The former are in gently rolling landscapes, tend to be deep (over 100 cm), extremely rich in organic matter (12-15 percent ), have high water retention capacity and drain very quickly. Soil pH is frequently less than 6, and deficiencies of P, and to a lesser extent, K and S are very common The poorly drained soils are in the lower portions of the landscape, have a depth that may vary between 20 and 150 cm, and have an underlying hardpan rich in Fe and Al.

The soils of the Patagonian region have been the subject of limited studies and reflect an extremely complex geography and geomorphology. In general they have developed under the influence of glaciers, and given the low year-round temperatures, their development has been scant. As indicated, glacier materials have given rise to soils that rest on old Tertiary sands and clays. Their depth is variable but generally they are shallow, tend to accumulate organic matter of low activity and, possibly as consequence of the low predominant temperatures, mineralisation is very low resulting in marked N deficiencies.


Climate and agro-ecological zones
The ecology of Chile has been studied and characterized in depth. An abbreviated summary is shown in Table 6.

Table 6. Agro-ecological zones of Chile and their main characteristics
[di Castri, summarized by Hajek, 1991]




Climatic characteristics


Dominant vegetation & uses

Desert Coastal desert Narrow strip, N of country Rainless; < 15 mm Red, saline, fairly deep Some cacti, others
  Interior desert East of coast, up to 3000 meters; < 10 mm rain Rainless, high temperature variation Red, lacking in organic matter Prosopis tamarugo (Habit, 1985), cacti
Tropical Tropical margin Between interior desert and Andean tropical 9-11 months dry, summer rains 50-100 mm, 3 cold months Red and others, steep slopes Shrubs, Tessaria sp., Baccharis sp. Cortaderia sp.
  Andean tropics Northern meseta 7-10 months dry; 9-10 months with 10º C Regosols, litosols Variable, depends on microtopography, Stipa spp., Festuca spp. Laretia sp. Azorella sp.; limited grazing use, transhumance
Mediterranean Per-arid III region 9-11 months dry, persistent fog Red, desertic soils Thorny scrub and shrubs. Geoffroea decorticans, Euphorbia spp., cacti
  Arid Low lying parts of IV region Extremely variable rainfall, 8-9 months dry, no cold months Brown-reddish, calcareous Sclerophitic shrubs, used for goat grazing, degraded
  Semi-arid Parts of V and Metropolitan regions 7 months dry, 1-2 semi arid, >300 mm rainfall moderate temperature variation Brown, calcareous soils, variable according to topography Dry savanna with Acacia caven, shrubs, palms. Irrigation available for intensive agriculture
  Subhumid Parts of regions VI and VII 5-6 months dry Brown, calcareous soils, variable according to topography Intensive irrigated agriculture, orchards, vineyards, annual crops
  Humid Centre of VIII region 2-5 months dry, 1000-1300 mm Volcanic soils ("trumaos") & brownish soils From Acacia savanna in N to humid forest in S (Cryptocarya alba, Quillaja saponaria, Nothofagus sp. Etc); forestry, annual crops, pastures
  Per-humid Coast of VIII region, N of IX 1-2 months dry Lateritic, mixed with volcanic Southern forest (Araucaria araucana, Nothofagus dombeyi, Drimys sp.); annual crops, pastures, pine trees
Oceanic Mediterranean influence Pacific coast of IX & X regions, south of 39º S, Chiloe Island Year-round rain, 2500-3000 mm but 3-4 subhumid months Volcanic, lateritic and podzols Southern forest; forestry, pastures, limited cropping
  Cold, Oceanic 44-45º S Rainy year-round, > 2500-7000 mm, cold winters Brownish; podsols; peats Humid, cold forest (Nothofagus sp; forestry
  Subantarctic Islands, S of 44 ºS Rainy, cold Peats, gleys Tundra to humid forest
  Trans-Andean Eastern slopes of the Andes, XI region 500-2000 mm rainfall, strong winds, 5-10 months < 10ºC Podzols, prairie soils Steppe; heavy grazing use
Continental Andean Western slopes XII region Large diurnal temperature varition, Litosols Grass steppe and tundra; summer grazing

A more detailed characterization of the climate of important agricultural regions of Chile follows.

Climate of the Mediterranean region
The major dominant climate of much of continental Chile is Mediterranean and extends over the range of approximately 27 to 39º S. To the north of this region, up to the border with Perú, the climate is desertic (Atacama desert), and to the South, it is humid. The Atacama Desert is a strip of 1,600 km along the coastal northern third of Chile (approximately 18º 20’ S to 27º 20’ S), and below 1,500 metres.

This profile deals only with the Mediterranean region, the temperate humid area South of it between latitudes 390 and 42º S, and the relatively small Patagonian region between 520 and 54 ºS since these are the regions where pastures are most important. Details of agroecozones and their use by grazing animals in the arid northern Andes of Chile can be consulted in the Bolivia Profile, a country that shares these areas with Chile.

In essence, the Mediterranean region in central Chile is a strip about 100 km wide, comprising three physiographic areas: Cordillera de la Costa, Valle Central and Andean Mountains. Given the length of the Mediterranean region (over 1,000 km in length in the N-S direction; administrative regions IV to VII), the climate is very variable. Annual rainfall ranges between 140 mm in the N and 1,300 mm in the south; correspondingly, the dry, warm season extends for 8 months in the north, and decreases to 4-5 months in the southern limit of the region. Inter-year variation in rainfall is extremely large, up to 300 percent in many areas. Numerous indices of aridity and of the effective growth season are available (see references in Ruiz, 1996). The cold season includes one to three (North to South) months (generally June to August) during which low average monthly temperatures (5-10 0C) seriously limit grass growth. A well-recognized classification of Mediterranean sub-regions include the following in the N-S direction: per-arid, arid, semi-arid, sub-humid, humid and per-humid. Still another differentiation commonly accepted is between the "interior" Mediterranean areas between the two mountain ranges referred to above, and the "coastal" areas between the Coastal range and the Pacific Ocean. This profile emphasizes the interior area since it is the largest and most important of the two.

The Southern plains
This area extends south of the Mediterranean region up to approximately 42ºS, and includes an important island, Chiloé. Rainfall increases in the N-S direction from about 1,400 mm to over 2,000 mm, with 70 percent of the rain concentrated in April-September (early autumn to early spring). Summer rainfall represents about 10 percent of this total in the north, and over 17 percent in the south. Mean monthly temperatures range between 5 ºC in the winter months and 12-15 ºC in summer. This regime creates a short (30-45 day) water deficit during peak summer in the northern tip of the region, which decreases and eventually disappears in the southern end of the plains. This ecoregion can be considered as part of the larger (38º 30’ S to 55º 3’S) temperate rain forest of Chile that runs all the way into Tierra del Fuego, and that includes the unique, and complex, deciduous Nothofagus forests.

The southern tip of continental Chile corresponds to the XII region, and extends over latitudes 48.4 and 56º S. The climate is heavily influenced by polar winds from the W and SW which following their encounter with the Andes, discharge rainfall and snow. Climate varies a great deal over relatively short distances, and is generally humid along the coast, and drier over the interior steppes. In generally the same direction (W-E) rainfall declines from over 400 mm along parts of the coast, to 200 mm on the drier portions of the steppe. Temperatures are low year-round, with yearly means of 4.8 ºC in the steppe and 6 ºC on the more humid areas. Summer is very short and cold, with a mean temperature of 10 ºC and occasionally more. Winds are persistent year round and cause severe desiccation during the summer season. Topography, rainfall, and variable distance from the Pacific coast and the Andes contribute to extreme variability, to the extent that up to 15 agro-climatic regions or districts have been identified.


Production systems that include and/or are based on ruminants occupy nearly 40 percent of the Chilean territory, with over one half of that amount (23 percent ) represented by rangeland-based systems (Thornton et al., 2002) if naturalized pastures are included in the latter category. Mixed irrigated systems represent 8-9 percent, and rainfed mixed systems occupy 4-5 percent of the continental territory.

In the northern-central part of Chile, close to the Santiago market, milk production systems are based on mostly confined animals fed irrigated lucerne and maize. Lucerne is used for soiling, and only occasionally for grazing during the growth period, and is also conserved as hay, whereas maize is made into silage. Winter feeding is based on conserved forages, and occasionally use is made of oats, Vicia sp. and other annual forages, in addition to the usual concentrates.

Temperate-type milk production systems tend to concentrate in the South of Chile (regions IX-X). These systems utilize naturalized and sown pastures year-round, and forage or pasture hay and silage, and are largely based on Holstein cattle, with a smaller proportion of European-type dual purpose breeds and crosses.

Country-wise annual milk production was very stable up until the mid nineteen-eighties, with a total production (milk received in processing plants) of about 600,000,000 litres. Since then it grew very rapidly at a rate of 8.1 percent per year, to 1640 million litres, under the influence of a changed policy scenario (Best, 2002). According to FAOSTAT total fresh cow milk production in 2004 was 2250 million litres with an estimate for 2005 of 2365 million litres. Data for 1987 show a total of 13,500 milk producers, 82 percent of which were considered "small" (48 l/day) and 13 percent "medium" (587 l/day). Nevertheless, and in common with other countries in the region, the number of milk producers decreased subsequently(22,000 in 1980, 15,600 in 1995 and 13,500 in 1999), with the decrease affecting mostly the small and medium farmers since there appears to be clear economies of scale (Best, 2002).

A small number of systems analyses have characterized these dairy systems, and in general, they have found that low tech systems coexist with technologically sophisticated enterprises. A recent study (Smith, Moreira and Latrille, 2002) surveyed 290 farms in the X region (approximately 41º S) that sold fresh milk to two major industries of the area. It was found that 71 percent of the farms used little technology, had a small area of sown pastures (29 percent ) and produced only 1131 kg milk/cow.year. Despite being small (10 ha allocated to the dairy herd), these farms made a relatively extensive use of land resources, and directly grazed pastures were the only source of feed for the herd, so that the median stocking rate was 0.62 AU/ha. Farms in this group used unselected bulls and did not practice the usually recommended milking and drying procedures to prevent mastitis. Although breeding appeared continuous throughout the year, most calvings concentrated on spring. Farmers and workers had little if any training in currently accepted management techniques.

A second group (13 percent of the farms) used a combination of grazing and stall feeding to supplement concentrates; these farms had a median stocking rate of 0.72 AU/ha over 91 ha allocated to the seasonally calving (spring and autumn) dairy herd, 34 percent of the area was sown to introduced pastures, and in general milking procedures were better than in the previous case. It was further found that the staff of these dairies was better qualified.

The third group, representing 12 percent of the sample, had a stocking rate of 1.16 AU/ha over 83 hectares, and included 33 percent of sown pastures. Although little to no concentrate feeding was used, milk production was 2,776 l/cow.year due to improved feeding resources and management.

Lastly, the fourth group (4 percent ) employed a stocking rate of 0.96 AU/ha, had 197 ha allocated to the dairy, 45 percent of which were sown pastures, and concentrate supplementation was widely practiced. This was the only group that included a significant number of specialized dairies, whereas the rest were mixed systems that included a variety of agricultural activities. The study clearly shows the coexistence of small, technically unsophisticated farms, within a sector that is much more entrepreneurial. The former is typical of small, resource poor, highly diversified farming systems in parts of south Chile and notably, in Chiloé Island that, despite being poor, are well organized and socially coherent.

Beef production in Chile is largely based on crossbred animals with heavy influence of Holstein. Breeds such as Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn and Brown Swiss constitute a small percentage of the beef stock. Cow-calf and fattening systems across the Mediterranean region are influenced by climate, and by the extent to which pasture irrigation is available (Klee, 1996). In the semi-arid Mediterranean region, Hereford cow-calf systems typically have a stocking rate of 0.3 cows/ha.yr., calves are weaned at 6 months of age with 180-200 kg liveweight, and winter supplementation of cows is generally required. Replacement heifers may have access to Phalaris-subclover pastures (0.8 head/ha), and may also require winter supplementation. Depending on the particular combination of forage resources, weight gains per ha range between 50 and 350 kg, whereas in the central portion of the area well fertilized and irrigated sown pastures may produce up to 1,200 kg weight gain/ha when used with young fattening steers. Further South (regions VII to VIII) these yields are even more likely, but the trend in the irrigated parts is to produce beef as a by-product of dairy systems. A great variety of systems and combinations of types of animals and forage resources exist, but it is generally considered that stocking rates of 3-4 calves/ha on irrigated pastures are feasible.

Pastures on the Andean piedmont of these regions can produce up to 200 kg liveweight gain per heactare, depending upon the specific location of the site.

Beef production in the southern plains have yields that range between 100 kg/ha on pastures on red Ultisols, to 300 kg/ha on poorly drained soils derived from volcanic ashes ("ñadis"), to over 1800 kg/ha on the best locations and soils. Generally speaking, 50-65 percent of these yields can originate from pasture use, with the remaining contributed by hay and concentrate supplements.

Pastures in the extreme South of continental Chile (XI and XII regions), although more commonly used for sheep production, may yield around 100 kg/ha of weight gain in cow-calf systems.

Sheep production systems across the Mediterranean region are based on the Merino and Corriedale breeds, frequently crossed to Suffolk when meat production is emphasized. These systems make extensive use of unirrigated, unimproved native grassland and therefore, their productivity is highly variable depending upon the climatic characteristics of the season. There exists a large range of possible systems, some of which are illustrated in Table 7.

Table 7. Sheep production systems in the subhumid Mediterranean region.
[Modified from Crempien (1996); data assembled from numerous experiments]

  Native pasture Native + 10 percent sown pastures Mixed: native+sown+ cereal fallows Sown pastures (Phalaris-subclover)
Ewes/ha 1.0 2.7 2.4 5.6-8.5
Weight gain, kg/ha 26.1 80.0 68.3 254-330
Wool, kg/ha 28.2 28.2 6.5 21.1-25.0

The continental part of the XII region, corresponding to the Chilean Patagonia is between latitudes 48°37’ and 56° S and longitude 66° and 75°4’ W, equivalent to 132,033 km2. The traditional, and current, dominant farming system is extensive sheep production, mostly for wool and increasingly, fat lamb production. The latter is driven by the availability of an, as yet, unsatisfied quota in the European Union. The region holds approximately one half of the national sheep stock, produces 60 percent of the total wool, and houses 3 percent of the national beef herd. Farms are very extensive, each of a few to several thousand hectares, and make use of the native steppe-like grasslands (approximately 2,500,000 ha) supplemented with a small area of "improved" (i.e., P and K fertilized native pastures; 100,000 ha) and sown pastures (10,000 ha; the usual temperate species such as Trifolium repens, Lolium spp., Lotus spp. and very occasionally, lucerne) in the better watered parts of the landscape. The area of both sown and improved pastures has decreased by 60 percent during the last 20 years. These production systems are in a state of flux, since their economic feasibility depends largely on wool prices, and given the extremely harsh climatic conditions, fine and superfine wool production are unfeasible. An active exploration of ways to increase fat lamb production is currently underway via introduction of new sheep breeds, pasture improvement through fertilization and testing of new species, and limited, strategic forage conservation. Similarly, sheep milk production is being experimented across all sheep production regions in Chile, which as above, depends on the introduction of new breeds (Milchschaf, Lacha, Churra, Manchega, etc.) and improved pastures and feeding strategies (Kusanovic, 1998).


The Chilean grasslands, with emphasis on sown and improved pastures, have been reviewed in detail by Ruiz (1996), and what follows is largely based on chapters therein and in Gastó and Gallardo (1995) and Ahumada and Faúndez (2002). It should be noted that pasture research has had a long and distinguished trajectory in the country, although the sector has lost importance and financial resources during the last 20 years, coinciding with the emphasis placed on the production of high value crops for export such as fruits, vineyards and horticultural crops. A detailed annotated list of references relating to pasture research in Chile up to 1982 has been published (Paladines and Muñoz, 1982).

This section therefore begins with a brief survey of the six major grassland types identified by Ahumada and Faúndez (2002) and Gastó and Gallardo (1995), and it is then followed by a more detailed description of pastures in the most important agro-ecozones.

The six grassland types are as follows:

  1. Grasslands of the northern high Andes. The formation covers 3,500,000 ha mostly above 3,500 metres. As indicated under Climate, the region is cold, frost may occur year-round and vegetation is relatively sparse depending upon soil depth and drainage. The well drained, dry areas are dominated by species of the Festuca, Stipa and Deyeuxia genera, and frequently include shrubs of the Asteraceae family. Primary aboveground productivity ranges between 250 and 1,300 kg/ha.year. Areas with marked depressions, and hydromorphic soils support wetlands ("bofedales", similar to those found in equivalent areas of Bolivia). These grasslands support the native camelid livestock and a rich fauna. The vegetation is composed of Juncaceae and Cyperaceae (Oxychloe andina, Distichia muscoides, Carex incurva), Poaeceae (Festuca nardifolia, Deyeuxia spp.) and Asteraceae (Werneria spp.)
  2. Steppic, xeromorphic grasslands. Located between latitudes 20 and 32º S, they cover 1,400,000 ha. These are very heterogeneous grasslands, influenced by climate and soil variability. Annual species of Poaceae tend to dominate, particularly those of the Avena, Vulpia and Bromus genera, sometimes mixed with perennial species of the Nasella and Stipa genera. Dicotyledons of the Plantago, Adesmia and Erodium genera make an important contribution to the sward. A variable number of shrubs and low trees can also be found, including Bahia ambrosoides, Puya chilensis, Oxalis gigantea, Fuchsialycioides lisoides, Heliotropium stenophyllum, Fluorensia thurifera and others. These grasslands support a considerable stock of goats, important for the local economy, and provide very variable yields of dry matter, ranging between 600 and 2,300 kg/ha.year
  3. Andean summer ranges. Located between regions III and IX, they cover an estimated 2,100,000 ha. Associated with the altitude, they are characterized by a dry atmosphere, high diurnal temperature variation, a relatively warm summer and a cold, frequently snow-covered, winter period. Bunch grasses of the Stipa and Festuca genera (locally known as "coirón") consitute the herbaceous layer, with denuded soils among the plants. Biomass yields range between 250 and 1,000 kg DM/ha.year. Depending upon the topography, wetlands can also be found, composed of species of the genera Juncus, Carex, Poa, Hordeum and Trifolium which constitute a very valuable seasonal forage resource.
  4. Mediterranean grasslands. Given their importance they are described in more detail below, but they constitute the characteristic landscape of the central and central south part of the country. These are savanna-like grasslands characterized by the presence of the Acacia caven shrub-low tree (espino) and a variable and rich herbaceous layer described below. Primary aboveground productivity ranges between 800 and 2,500 kg DM/ha.year.
  5. Temperate humid and transitional grasslands. These are found in a variety of locations, including the piedmont of the VIII regions, and large parts of the IX to XII regions. Described in more detail below, they include a variety of naturalized species such as Dactylis glomerata, Holcus lanatus, Lolium perenne, Trifolium spp., Lotus uliginosus and L. corniculatus, plus a variety of dicotyledons, all of which respond to fertilizer inputs and thus provide variable yields. In the transition zone between the Mediterranean and humid areas, annual species of grasses and legumes are found.
  6. Steppic grasslands of western Patagonia. Also described in more detail below, they include species of Festuca, Stipa, Poa and Rytidosperma among the dominant tussock grasses, and a low lying layer (or "cushion layer") of Poa, Festuca, Agrostis, Deschampsia and Phleum mixed with numerous dicotyledons and occasionally Cyperaceae.

Mediterranean region
The Mediterranean region is between latitudes 30 and 370 South, or about 1,000 kilometres in length. It encloses considerable variation, associated with rainfall and soils. Six subregions are generally recognized, based on rainfall and range from per-arid to per-humid environments. Nevertheless it is characteristically dominated by annual grass species associated with the leguminous tree Acacia caven in stands of variable density, thus giving rise to natural silvopastoral systems and an easily recognized landscape.

Most grass species are not native, but are of European and Asiatic origin, although some of these, such as Avena barbata, Bromus mollis, Hordeum leporinum and Medicago polymorpha (e.g., Ovalle et al., 1997, 2001) are native despite being found in other Mediterranean climates as well. The similarities between the Chilean Mediterranean grasslands and those of California have been noted. The introduction of species such as Avena barbata, Bromus mollis, Aira caryophyllea, Lolium multiforum, Erodium botrys and others was a consequence of the Spanish colonization in the XIV century, and followed the conversion of the native grasslands to croplands, displacing species of the Stipa, Piptochaetium and other genera.

The arid northern tip of the Mediterranean region is considered the most degraded portion. It has a varied flora that includes 97 tree and shrub species, 95 grass and herbaceous species and 8 succulents (e.g., cacti). Frequent herbaceous species include Erodium cicutarium and other sp., Adesmia tenella, Adesmia barbata, Vulpia dertonensis, Plantago hispidula and others. There are 22 native Atriplex species in Chile, and Atriplex repanda is one of the best. Of the introduced Atriplex species, Atriplex nummularia is best adapted to Chilean conditions and it was widely sown in the 1980s. Data on the extent of plantings is not available, but extensive areas planted to various Atriplex species subsist to date, although it is unclear if farmers continue to sow new areas. Persistence of these species depends very much on management , and current recommendations (Meneses and Squella, 1996) consider them as a valuable complementary forage resource if used strategically to supplement sheep.

The semi-arid to humid subregions share many characteristics in common. The vegetation is known as "espinal", for the characteristic presence of Acacia caven ("espino") in the top horizon, and has been likened to a tree savanna. In this region, native grasslands alternate with cereal crops and fallows, and have been profoundly modified by human action. Whether the Acacia savanna is a climax vegetation or resulted from anthropic intervention is a debatable issue. The herbaceous layer is complex and includes in excess of 200 species of variable value for grazing ruminants. From this point of view, important and desirable species include Lolium multiflorum and Lolium rigidum, Briza maxima, Medicago polymorpha and Medicago arabica, Trifolium glomeratum and numerous Erodium sp. The relative importance of these and numerous other species vary depending upon past use and history of the paddock. Similarly, forage yields and estimated carrying capacities are variable. An example of this situation is given in Table 8.

Table 8. Estimated biomass yields and carrying capacities of grasslands in the subhumid Mediterranean region
(Ovalle and Squella, 1996).

Type of use Typical species Biomass yield, kg DM/ha.year Carrying capacity, AU/ha
Long term pastoral use A. caven, L. multiflorum, etc 3,500-4,500 0.6
>over 20 years after cereals A. caven, V. dertonensis, B. maxima, etc 2,500-3,500 0,5
5-7 years rotation with cereals V. dertonensis, Hordeum spp., Erodium spp. 1,500-2,500 0.3
3-6 years rotation with cereals Aira sp., V. dertonensi, Leontodon leysseri, etc 1,000-1,500 0.2
Fallow after cereals Piptochaetium sp., Plantago sp., Baccharis sp. 200-1,000 < 0.2

In common with Mediterranean vegetation elsewhere, nutritive value is markedly influenced by the season. During the active growth period of spring, crude protein on offer can be as high as 20 percent, and dry matter digestibility reaches 66 percent, while during autumn these values fall to under 10 percent and 45 percent respectively. Senescent material of course is of much lower nutritive value.

Numerous studies have addressed the interaction between the legume tree Acacia caven and the underlying herbaceous layer. Partial or total clearing of the tree has been associated with decreased dry matter yield of the herbaceous layer, and drastic, and worsening, changes in botanical composition.

Mediterranean sown pastures
The use of sown pastures in the Mediterranean region of Chile varies depending on the availability of rainfall and, as expected, they are commoner in the south, better endowed, tip of the region. The commonest sown pastures are based on sub clover (Trifolium subterraneum) alone or associated with a variety of annual, and in some cases perennial, grasses. Common grasses used for this purpose include Lolium multiflorum and Phalaris tuberosa. Regardless of the association, Phosphorus fertilization is generally required, and positive responses to this element applied both at sowing and as annual maintenance are found from the semiarid to the humid extremes of the region. For example, the response to 300 kg P2O5/ha in terms of dry matter yield during the second year was 63 percent over the control in the semiarid subregion, versus 285 percent in the humid one. On the other hand, unfertilized sown pastures have very limited persistence, and yields rapidly decrease during the first five years until they practically disappear. These pastures are commonly used for direct grazing and occasionally, for haymaking. Common hay yields range between 3 and 6 ton DM/ha over 1-2 cuts per year. The bulk of biomass production is generally concentrated over the months of October to December (spring); if unused, biomass rapidly decreases in yield and quality over the summer period of late December to March. A large number of grazing experiments have been conducted across the region, and Table 9. shows a summary of results found with grazing ewes, stocked at 3-6 head/ha. These results reflect well the extreme variability of weather and management practices encountered in this ecosystem.

Table 9. Seasonal weight gains of ewes grazing subclover pastures associated with ryegrass and/or Phalaris in two locations.
Modified from Avendaño (1996).

Season Location

Ewe liveweight gains, g/

Fall Hidango, approx. 34° S, semiarid to subhumid

-60 to -115


-4 to 55


80 to 188


-133 to -2

Fall Cauquenes, approx. 36° S, subhumid

-167 to 144


20 to 86


52 to 279


-107 to 37

Large areas of the central portion of the Mediterranean region (approx. 34-36° S), south of the capital Santiago are irrigated. High land values, fertile soils and proximity to the country’s largest market explain the presence of intensive dairying operations based on irrigated lucerne (Medicago sativa) for direct grazing and hay making, and irrigated maize for silage (e.g. Jahn, Vidal and Soto, 2000) in an area that has largely shifted to vineyards and orchards. Here the growth of lucerne extends over the months of August to May, allowing 7-8 periods of utilization, 5-6 of which may be hayed. Directly grazed, unsupplemented lucerne allows the production of 15-20 kg FCM/d [FCM = fat corrected milk] by Holstein cows during the November-March period ( Jahn et al., 2002). Similarly, maize also provides high yields, in excess of 20 ton DM/ha. Winter forages such as oats, annual ryegrass and others are generally rotated with maize.

Further south shallower, acidic soils are encountered which to a large extent prevent the use of lucerne. Pastures based on white clover and perennial ryegrass and/or tall fescue, and Lotus corniculatus for poorly drained areas, are common. Since temperatures are lower than further North, the growing season is shorter, generally mid September to late April. Suggested associations and rotations for this region include white clover-perennial ryegrass for direct grazing, red clover-annual ryegrass for conservation and grazing, and maize silage for winter feeding or, alternatively, oats for direct grazing. Much more detailed recommendations and rotations are available (Ruiz, 1996).

Parts of approximately the same region (34-36° S) have alluvial and other soils with limited drainage, used for irrigated rice. These soils have typically in excess of 30 percent clay, pH below 6 and very low P (< 5 ppm). Frequently, rice is rotated with subclover-based associations (including Wimmera ryegrass, and/or Phalaris aquatica) or in longer irrigated rotations with white clover associated with perennial ryegrass or tall fescue. These rotations resemble those found in the rice-growing region of Eastern Uruguay and South Brazil. Well managed experimental pastures of this type, supplemented in winter with oilseed by-products or hay have yielded in excess of 600 kg/ha of steer weight gains.

The southern tip of the central region, extending between latitudes 37.4 and 39° S represents the transition to a humid climate, and is covered by a mosaic of soils most notably those derived from volcanic ashes, and red Ultisols. Much of the area is characterized by a cold humid Mediterranean climate, with mean annual temperature of 10 °C (warmest month is January with 21.5 °C, coldest is July, 2.3 °C) and annual rainfall of up to 1,400 mm. Here "native pastures" include a large range of native and naturalized species, such as Trifolium repens, Rumex acetocella, Lolium perenne, Taraxacum officinale, Lotus uliginosus, Bromus sp., Holcus sp. and many others. These pastures can be highly productive if irrigated and fertilized. Thus, control pastures may yield 4 ton DM/ha, whereas P-fertilized pastures may reach 6-7 ton DM/ha. Sown pastures were traditionally based on Lolium perenne and Trifolium repens, but Dactylis glomerata and to a lesser extent tall fescue replace ryegrass in the less favoured soils. As in cases referred to above, numerous combinations of pastures for different seasons are available and used.

The Southern plains
This region is well endowed with grasslands made up of a mixture of native and naturalized species. Depending upon management, and particularly the underlying soil and the fertilization regime employed, the following species in variable percentages can be encountered in the better soils ("trumaos" see under Soils): Trifolium repens, Lotus uliginosus, Dactylis glomerata, Holcus lanatus, Bromus catharticus, Bromus valdivianus, Arrhenaterum elatius ssp. Bulbosus, Paspalum dasyplerus, Agrostis tenuis, Antoxanthum adoratum (Balocchi and López, 2001; Teuber, 1996), and various broadleaf herbaceous species. Given the soil nutrient deficiencies referred to above, responses to P fertilization are large. For example, valuable species such as T. repens and D. glomerata may contribute less than 10 percent each in unfertilized grasslands, and increase to 20 percent or more in well fertilized and managed natural pastures.

Sown pastures rely on some of the same naturalized species such as Trifolium repens and Dactylis glomerata, but most frequently include Lolium perenne, and sometimes tall fescue. Depending upon the topography of the paddocks, these pastures can be undersown to cereal crops, such as wheat. Wheat-pastures rotations are advocated to reduce erosion and recuperate soil organic matter after cereal crops (Rodríguez et al., 2000). Short rotation pastures based on annual ryegrass and red clover are also common. Sown pastures based on perennial species or short rotation species typically provide experimental yields of 12-18 tons DM/ha.year (Teuber, 1996). In the view of some researchers (e.g., Balocchi and López, 2001) well managed naturalized pastures can provide similar yields, and equivalent nutritional quality.

The poorly drained soils ("ñadis") support mostly a large variety of native trees and shrubs, and their main use is for forestry. Nevertheless, deforested areas are covered by pastures which include both native and naturalized species, where Agrostis tenuis, Holcus lanatus and Hypochoeris radicata tend to dominate. These are low yielding mixtures, seldom exceeding 5 ton DM/ha, frequently used in cow-calf systems. In controlled experiments, P and K-fertilized pastures in this production system have yielded up to 280 kg weight gain/ha.year.

Patagonian pastures
Patagonian native pastures (XII region) are an important forage resource, as they support 50 percent of the national sheep stock. The sheep industry is the mainstay of the regional economy. This area of grasslands covers an estimated 3,5000,000 ha over continental Chile and a number of large, important islands. The grassland area is distributed as follows (Covacevich and Ruz, 1996): 32.7 percent of grasslands/shrublands communities, 12 percent shrublands, 27 percent open grasslands, 5.5 percent sown pastures, 17 percent forests, and other minor areas. Possibly the most characteristic tussock grass species is Festuca gracillima ("coirón"), frequently associated with the equally characteristic dicot Chiliotrichum diffusum ("mata verde"). Other important perennial grasses include: Stipa humilis, Stipa ibari, Stipa subplumosa, Festuca pallescens, Poa spp., Rytidosperma virescens, Agropyron magellanicum and others. These grasslands have a short period of active growth, starting in September when temperatures rise, and decreasing rapidly in December as soils dry out. Yields in this period range between 300 and 800 kg DM/ha. A second brief regrowth is observed towards the end of summer and early autumn, amounting to no more than 150 kg DM/ha. In this same region, small depressional areas accumulate water and organic matter ("vegas" or "mallines"), and support much higher yields of up to 4,500 kg DM/ha.yr, despite being partially flooded part of the year. In some ranches, efforts are made to control water levels and provide strategic irrigation to these areas, to allow forage conservation. In regions better endowed with rainfall (above 350 mm) a number of naturalized species such as Trifolium repens form part of the sward, and provide correspondingly higher biomass yields, that can be further increased by P and S fertilization (up to 7,000 kg DM/ha.year).

Sown pastures can be established, although conventional soil preparation has a narrow window of opportunity. Traditional temperate species such as Lolium perenne, Dactylis glomerata, Festuca arundinacea, Phleum pratensis, and Trifolium repens can be established and maintained successfully in the more favoured areas, if adequately fertilized and managed. Similarly, lucerne can, and is, used in some areas. In all cases, current fertilization recommendations include 40-60 kg P2O5 and 20-60 kg S.


As implied in the above description of pasture resources, a considerable body of research regarding pasture establishment, improvement, management and utilization is available in Chile, with particular emphasis on the Mediterranean areas and the Southern plains. Although pasture research has declined in the last 10 years, a considerable stock of knowledge is therefore available. As indicated above pasture improvement in much of Chile is dependent upon P fertilization and good grazing management. Thus, the constraints are generally more institution- and policy-related, than technological. Small to medium livestock farmers across most of the country will have to produce ruminant products of higher value than in the recent past if they are to survive as such. The incipient trend towards the production of sheep and goat milk and cheese, organic ruminant products and supefine wool may well demand improved pastures and pasture management, as well as more and improved access to technical and economic information.

Pasture improvement in the arid north and northern Andes, where indigenous populations abound is difficult given the serious climatic constraints of the region, and the poverty of the small communities that inhabit some of those areas.

Climatic constraints also limit pasture improvement in the extreme South of continental Chile (the Patagonia), but the limited amount of research that has been carried out, and that probably needs updating, suggests that this is a feasible endeavour, particularly if the country is to increase its exports of high quality lamb meat to the EU.

In 2001 the government established a programme to promote the export of beef ("Plan de Exportaciones de Carne Bovina") that aims to reach US$ 100,000,000 by 2005, and it is anticipated that the programme should have its major impact in the Southern Plains of Chile, where pastures have the largest potential. If this programme reaches its objective, it should lead also to major changes in the grasslands of that region.


The national research institute, INIA (Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias) depends for part of its financial resources on the Ministry of Agriculture. It was re-organized in 1964 as a private not-for-profit corporation. It is organized around 9 regional research centres and 17 research stations that cover the whole country, and in general it has highly qualified staff. It also includes a state of the art germplasm conservation unit. Each regional centre has a directory composed of representatives of the private and public sectors. INIA finances only 70 percent of its budget with its own fiscal resources (Bisang et al., 1999; PROCISUR, 1999) and it therefore has to compete with other institutions for research grants.

Competitive research grants (for mechanisms, see Gill and Carney, 1999; PROCISUR, 1999) are made available by several government departments (Funds). The situation with regards to funds is relatively complex. Briefly, the Ministry of Economy (Herrera, 1999) allocates resources and provides overall coordination of two important funds, namely FONTEC (Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Tecnológico y Productivo; technological development and production), and the FDI (Fondo de Desarrollo e Innovación; development and innovation), and of a third fund (Fondo de Fomento al Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico; development of science and technology) administered by the national research council, CONICYT. All of these finance agricultural research and development projects, among many others. The Ministry of Agriculture also offers competitive grants specifically for agricultural purposes, via FIA (Fondo para la Innovación Agraria; agricultural innovations). As can be inferred from the titles, there is a degree of overlap among some of these funds. With the exception of those resources administered by CONICYT, the rest encourages joint research and development ventures between the public and private sectors.

Several national and regional universities carry out forage and pasture research, through grants of the above funds and others. Almost all of these universities have also highly qualified staff, and numerous postgraduate courses (largely at the M.S. level).

Mechanisms of technology transfer have also been profoundly reorganized since the 1980s, a phenomenon that applies to most other countries in the region and that has been critically reviewed by Berdegué (2002). Agricultural extension in Chile is effectively privatized (González, 2002) in terms of the financial resources allocated directly by the central government. Farmers and farmers organizations are provided with funds, on a competitive basis, to enter into contracts with private advisers and consultants. Medium and large farmers are encouraged to join in small "technology transfer groups" (Grupos de Transferencia de Tecnología, GTT, created in 1976 and fashioned after the CETA groups of France and the Argentinian CREA groups; Altmann, undated) which can apply for government grants to carry out new initiatives, appoint consultants, travel to other countries to learn new techniques and procedures, and various other alternatives. In the case of small farmers, funds are allocated through a government institution, INDAP (Instituto de Desarollo Agropecuario; institute of agricultural development), to smallholders as vouchers that can be freely used to demand the desired services. These institutions and details of their operations have been discussed at length by numerous authors (e.g., de Janvry, Key and Sadoulet, 1997), but in general they attempt to empower producers.

The National Agricultural Society (SNA, Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura), founded over 160 years ago, created a not-for-profit corporation (CODESSER, Corporación de Desarrollo Social del Sector Rural) with the objective of training and promoting education of the rural sector, with emphasis on farm labourers. As an example, in 1999 it trained over 19,000 farm workers, equivalent to 4 percent of the overall Chilean labour force. This corporation also manages some of the government-funded projects aimed at the promotion of agriculture which include a strong component of technology transfer (e.g., FAT, Fondo de Asistencia Tecnica; PROFOS, Proyectos de Fomento, and others).


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The national research institute, INIA, maintains an up-to-date web page that includes the addresses of all its technical staff:

Mediterraean pastures, improvement, utilization, germplasm:
Fernando Squella, Ph. D.

Mediterranean and arid pastures, and production systems:
Giorgio Castellaro, M.S.
Independent consultant

Humid pastures, improvement, germplasm:
Nolberto Teuber, Ph.D.

Humid pastures, utilization, production systems:
Ernesto Jahn, Ph.D.

Patagonian pastures, sheep production systems:
Gustavo Cubillos, Ph.D.
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile


Dr. Raul R. Vera is a former Senior Scientist and Leader of the Tropical Pastures Program, International Center of Tropical Agriculture, CIAT, based in Cali, Colombia. He is currently a private consultant and part-time researcher of the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile.

Raúl R. Vera
2 Norte 443 dpto. 52
Viña del Mar, CHILE 2534194
Fax (Chile) 56-2-552 9435

E-mail: < >

[The profile was prepared in November/December 2002 and January 2003 and edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in January, 2003 and further modified by S.G. Reynolds in May 2006]