Jorge Valenzuela Fedefruta

Almost 90 per cent of Chilean fruit producers believe they face a fragile or unsustainable future because of the drought affecting large swathes of the country, according to a survey by fruit producer federation Fedefruta.

The survey, entitled ‘Impact of Drought on Chilean Fruit Production’, was created to assess the perception of growers in the country’s main fruit producing regions. Releasing the results last week, Fedefruta said it had collected 375 responses from growers from Atacama to Los Lagos.

The results show that 61.5 per cent of respondents said the scenario they faced due to the water crisis is fragile, with a further 25.9 per cent suggesting the situation is unsustainable. Only 12.5 per cent of respondents believe the situation is sustainable.

Other findings include the fact that 73.6 per cent of respondents said they had had to postpone planned investments in their company, such as replanting or expanding acreage, due to the current water emergency.

On the effects of the drought at farm level, 58.9 per cent of respondents said they would have to stop watering at least 20 per cent of their acreage. “This means six out of ten producers will not be able to irrigate at least one part of their orchards,” said Fedefruta’s president, Jorge Valenzuela.

Extrapolating the results to a national average, this suggests that 34.77 per cent of Chile’s fruit production will face complications, with table grapes, nuts, cherries, top fruit and citrus among the worst affected crops.

Asked whether new technologies such as sensors, big data management and automated irrigation had helped or would help to overcome the present challenges, 45 per cent agreed and a further 41 per cent agreed partially.

Only 4.5 per cent said it would make no difference, suggesting, said Valenzuela, that “the use of new technologies has had a positive impact on the sector”.

However, 10 per cent of respondents said they did not have access to these tool, “so we must continue working at public and private level to ensure that the entire sector can access these technologies,” he continued.

The survey also assessed agricultural employment levels for the 2019/20 campaign. The results revealed that the hiring of seasonal staff to harvest crops could fall by as much as 30.5 per cent due to the water crisis.

Private investment in works

Fedefruta also asked producers, to prioritise the various investment projects that the fruit sector would be willing to finance to improve water provision.

More than half said that government-run reservoirs were the most important provision, while 30 per cent said intrapedial dams, 26 per cent answered infiltration of aquifers and 25 per cent responded a water highway. Only 15 per cent indicated that desalination plants were the most important solution.