How long have the Nickelsen family been related to agriculture?
Our relationship with the agricultural world began in 1933, when my grandfather, being a merchant in the Concepción area, decided to make an investment in agricultural real estate. The selected area were forests provided by the Chilean state for logging. When that process was completed, the fields were divided into lands of 800 hectares each. After that, in 1954, my father took over and started to innovate with mechanized crops, in a moment where most of the processes in the industry were done manually.
As time went by, have they kept innovating?Over the years, we went from animal traction to tractors, from impassable to improved roads, implemented electricity and, above all, we tried to make a friendly environment in the countryside.
Adaptation to modernity is not an easy task…My dad went through difficult times during the 70’s in a period of Chilean history called “Agrarian Reform” the agricultural sector was involved in expropriations and other processes that –even if they didn’t affect us directly due to the extension of our fields- affected us in political and trade matters, as much as our partners during that time.
Which was the next challenge you had to face as a family?Towards the end of the nineties my father, my brother in law and me - as third generation - started to take control of the company. That was a very important challenge to face, because we had to make the company grow. It was in that moment when we asked ourselves: how can we do to make that our company participates in the international markets strategy that our country had planned in that time? We had to define a strategy that would allow us to develop in line with the export opportunities.
How was the approach?We partnered with six farmers to plant blueberries. And certainly this cooperation gave us the necessary strength to achieve our goals, because if we decided to do it alone, the results would not have been the same, I think. In that time we didn't have contacts nor working networks, so we hired specialists and traveled abroad to learn. The 80's was a decade of constant crisis for the company and we were -technically- broken. Collipulli, our neighborhood, was being dominated by foresters so unity meant strength.
At the end of the tunnel, was there light?We were experimenting with apples, cherries and by 2009 we planted our last fruit species: the European hazelnut. Today we have around 300 hectares exclusively dedicated to fruit crops.
It seems that family values are very important for the NickelsensWe constantly see how some companies of our sector cannot sustain themselves over the years, one or two generations at most. Lack of planning makes them unsustainable. We use to see the traditional role of “almighty landlord”: somebody who always want to do everything without advice and does not generate spaces for anyone to contribute from his expertise both in management and the field itself. And such a structure requires will. This is not our case, and we owe it to my father, because he opened the doors of the business, always inviting us to contribute. It was a complex scenario, but he always believed that the opportunities were in the field. Without that example of trust, we would never possess the 5000 hectares we currently have. Nowadays, my father is 91 years old, he is in good health and he allowed the family to develop together with the company. That is the reason why I am proud that now the 4th generation is added and continue with this project.
Which is the company seal of Agrícola La Selva?What we have is a constant search of new opportunities, when we are engage in a project, we go deep and we do it well, with passion. If we start the project, we go from A to Z, because if we just finish in X, it is like a tractor with three wheels. That is our company seal, because we develop collective ideas ending in success. For this reason, we have a pact: none of the associates can have parallel projects. Even if we can develop our own ideas, all of them have to be approved by our management board. Imagine if I, as Peter Nickelsen rent a field just because I want to sow something, how am I going to give priority to my work in the company instead? If we keep focusing in a single business, all of us will ride in the same direction.
Now talking with Peter Nickelsen Jr. – a member of the fourth generation- what is the challenge for those who are now joining the business?I joined Agrícola La Selva about a year ago: I have experience in other industries, I am an engineer and currently in a process of learning everything in the company. I feel that the challenge we face is to be able to structure our operation using engineering. The productive structure is huge and many things have been done, but we need to improve it based on everything that remains in the company after the working hours. When everybody go home I need that something keeps working. Today, if my father or my uncle are not present, we have everything in his place, but we need the know how to keep things running. In addition we are growing in hectares of apples, hazelnuts, irrigation systems and more, that is why we have a defined mission: to learn and consolidate.
And from a son point of view, how do you feel the family job?
It is an immense responsibility and a great challenge. Responsibility is based on the fact that things have been well managed here, and to keep that we need to learn and work hard. Since I was a child, I have been seeing how the company prospered: how the tractors became bigger, how the cultivated surface expanded; and we must make that growth to keep the essence of our family values. As I am a witness of the generosity shown by my grandfather to my father, and also because I have seen how my father has given me space; I know that the transfer must be a process of adopting and combining our styles, but continuing with our characteristic seal.