SANTIAGO – Chile’s almond harvest has already ended and, according to producers, there was a widespread drop in production across the country.
“We will have the exact figures by area and variety in the next three weeks, but according to estimates, the total volume of almonds has decreased by 15% to 25%, and the calibers are also smaller,” stated Jorge Andres Ovalle Madrid.
According to the almond producer, this reduction has two causes: “First, we had a year with many frosts in Chile, and second, there was a drought during winter – in May, June and July – which is the normal rainy season,” he stated.
The lack of rainfall resulted in fewer flowers, but also in damages due to the accumulation of salts in the soils, as there was no rain to wash them away. “The trees were being burned by the accumulation of salts from the fertilizers that are used in agriculture and the water coming from the mountain range, which comes down brackish.”
The producer blamed the situation on climate change, and said he didn’t think that there was any short-term solution. “In summer, the temperatures were abnormally high, of up to 40° C, and there wasn’t enough water to water the trees,” he said.
“It will take more than a normal year of rains to reverse this damage. It’s going to take several years of normality to recover the orchards, which are currently dry. Planting a new orchard takes seven years, so the damage is very serious for the entire Chilean industry.” According to Ovalle, Chile exports 80% of its almond production to other countries.
Unfortunately, the lack of supply does not necessarily imply better prices, as Chile can’t impose international prices because its almond surface is less than 1% of the surface area that the US has devoted to almonds. “World prices don’t change if we run out of almonds so producers are not getting more money for producing less fruit,” Ovalle said.
According to the producer, next season producers will begin to plant new drought-resistant varieties throughout the country, especially in rootstocks. He also said that he was confident that, in the long term, there would be a major varietal change.
However, he hoped that these new varieties and the current irrigation systems would save the almond industry. “80% of the fruit growing in Chile is under technical irrigation, and we still lack water,” he stated.