INSIDERSSeed Health & TestingLeaving Chile During its Third Wave a Bittersweet Experience

Leaving Chile During its Third Wave a Bittersweet Experience


In one week, my team and I will depart Chile to return to Canada. As essential agricultural workers, we’ll be permitted back into our home country after having been here for the past seven weeks helping with contra-season seed production.

Our time in Chile has been safe, but as we planned to come back to Canada nothing seemed stable with our travel plans, adding another layer of stress.

On Feb. 22, shortly after we arrived, the Trudeau government announced that all travellers had to go into a mandatory three-night quarantine upon arrival in Canada. Horror stories emerged in the media about overinflated prices and hotel rooms covered in plastic, people saying they weren’t allowed out of their room with no food and water. We were concerned to say the least, and I began to think, “Why are they allowing people out of Canada in the first place?”

The federal government website provided to us after this emergency policy was little help to us with no thought on how we should plan our trip home. Feeling marooned, I contacted the toll free number to speak with an agent in Ottawa which led nowhere other than back to the website. I reached out to various organizations at home for letters of support.

As a result, our provincial agricultural minister for Alberta provided a really good set of links to different websites explaining how we would get back to Canada. Our clients who we work for here also supported us in our efforts.

Heavy Toll

Chile has had nearly one million cases of COVID-19, with almost 22,000 deaths. It has been hit hard, and is currently in a third wave of the pandemic. Moving around in Chile, we require various passes for the cities in lockdown, entering shops for essential groceries and for just about everything else. We have been stopped numerous times for temperature checks, safe passage and proving we are COVID-free.

Not a bad system if you know what’s expected of you. Chileans are living life on the edge. Santiago has been in lockdown twice during our time here. We’re only allowed there on essential business. Chile does not allow their COVID numbers to get very high before they go into lockdown, so it has been touch-and-go ever since we arrived in terms of where we’re able to venture.

Harvest in Chile has also been delayed, and we are hopeful we’ll be able to finish what we came here to do. This time last year, we had just arrived home in Canada after leaving Chile as the pandemic began to sweep the Western Hemisphere. While leaving this time around is a little less scary, it’s never easy to leave this country and the people we have come to know and love.

Essential Work

Our work here is definitely essential. Seed companies require a purity test that meets Canadian standards, which could be done by the South American government, but taking that route can result in dramatic delays in getting the results. This year we’re very much more aware of delays without the authorities at the helm assisting and without us, seed companies with contra-season operations in Chile simply can’t keep up with the volume of seed going through the system.

Our presence definitely expedites the movement of seed, because as soon as we get the sample, it’s done within minutes. It’s very intense work that would take other regulatory officials much longer as they are working to COVID rules. I’m thankful that we can use our platform and routine analysis to transition seed back to Canada seamlessly.

While we’re happy to help in any way we can, the risks involved in travelling here and then home again are not lost on us. Despite every precaution taken, nothing is 100% guaranteed. I continue to believe that a universal seed testing standard is needed more than ever.

To get home, we’ll depart Santiago and fly to Texas, then Colorado, before arriving in Calgary. Flights alone have been the most expensive part of our travels especially since Air Canada now no longer flies to South America and we have had to rebook several times for our return journey.

Our COVID tests can’t be more than 72 hours old before departing an airport, so relying on local clinics for expedited results is a concern. It seems no one is travelling, so concessions have to be made for us in a timely manner for the necessary PCR test.

Being essential workers, we can thankfully re-enter the country provided we have a negative COVID test and proceed directly home, where we will quarantine for two weeks. But returning home is bittersweet once again.

Sarah Foster
President and Senior Seed Analyst, 20/20 Seed Labs - Sarah Foster is a registered seed technologist, senior seed analyst and president of 20/20 Seed Labs — a company she started in 1989 that provides testing services for all crop kinds, including extensive quality and seed health analysis, molecular testing and accredited crop inspection. Involved in the seed industry since the late 1970s, Foster studied and qualified as an accredited seed analyst at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England. Her work experience includes seven years with Sharps Seed International (Advanta) in the United Kingdom, and five years with the United Grain Growers in Edmonton after immigrating to Canada in 1984.