The keys to changes in the Chilean fruit industry

Since the beginning of the 80s up till today, the surface area of fruit plantations in Chile has tripled from 100,000 hectares to 300,000, and the growing momentum of production has become a strength in exports. There are many elements that have been part of the transformation of this sector, changing the national agriculture.

It isn’t easy to identify a specific factor to explain the changes in the fruit industry in the last few years and decades, it has to been understood rather as a combination of elements that have coincided and have happened in order to boost its growth. There do appear some fundamentals in analysis though: the openings of international markets through trading agreements; the vision and business instinct of producers and exporters; and the increase in productivity through the incorporation of technology and modernisation of the management of orchards.


Broadening the world

Even though the USA remains the main destination for Chilean fruit, with 35% going there, in the last few years the statistics show a diversification of the markets. This is due to increasing Free Trade Agreements and the advance of pesticide protocols, making national fruit more accessible to different countries. The USA and the European Union together represent more than 60% of exports, while Latin America and Asia receive 19% and 15% of Chilean fruit, respectively.


Growth into the south

The first stages of this industry were directed towards the north and the central zone, principally with plantations of table grapes, maize and apple trees. However the introduction of new cultivations - like kiwi, blueberries, cherries and walnut trees - as well as climate change and less water availability have amplified the fruit-growing boundaries of Chile. In the last 10 years the area that has grown the most in fruit production is between the IX and X region, with an increase of 207%, in addition to  a 65% increase of the fruit plantations between the Metropolitan Region and Maule.


A good eye for business

The growth of the fruit-growing borders in Chile and the arrival of new species to the country are because of the decisions of producers and agriculture business owners. Together with an increase in the production of fruit, the exports have increased the infrastructure associated with it, and the statistics show this advance: since 1985 to date there have appeared 175 new agroindustrial plantations, in fruit and vegetables.


New technologies and management

One of the important leaps forward that defined the destiny of the sector at the beginning of the 80s was the incorporation of technological irrigation, to lead Chile to become one of the countries with the highest percentage of irrigated land, at 35%. Isreal, the leading country in irrigation, has around 45%. Because of this effort, producers have been able to diversify and incorporate new varieties.


Less manual labour


In the last five years, with the economy performance and the boom of mining, the availability of manual labour in the fruit industry reduced and its value increased. The situation has provoked in many regions the replacement of species that require a lot of manual labour, like table grapes, for cultivations like walnut trees, which require only a tenth of the labour. Facing this scenario, the unions and experts think it is necessary to  make agriculture attractive again.


Table grapes continue being the leader fruit

Despite the change in tendencies of the varieties leading exports, which show a strong increase in cherries and walnut trees, as well as the consolidation of blueberries, table grapes continue to be the leading fruit in the volume of future shipments.


Chile, a food power?


In 2006 the objective was set to place Chile between the ten major producers of food within 10 years. The objective known by the slogan “Chile, potencia alimentaria” (Chile, a food power) appears to have been losing strength.

“There need to be fewer declarations and more action, and this requires an evaluation which hasn’t been done,” criticised Ronald Bown, president of Asoex. “We need to ask ourselves if we can realistically be a food-production power, what requisites we need, to realise the real potential of each one of the country’s regions and in what categories, and on this we need to define if it will go well for us.”