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Quake impact leaves Chilean farmers short of storage, cooling and irrigation

Tuesday, March 30th 2010 - 23:00 UTC
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Almost 70% of irrigation capacity has been damaged Almost 70% of irrigation capacity has been damaged

Chile’s annual fall harvest season continues apace, notwithstanding earthquake damage to Chile's roads, irrigation systems, electric grid, packing houses, and other infrastructure.

“This season’s export crops of Chilean apples, pears, and plums have decreased as a result of the earthquake,” said Isabel Quiroz, head of Santiago-based IQonsulting, a fruit analysis and services firm. “Lack of water has caused a decrease in the volume of the fruit, while at least 40% of the growers are encountering problems with storage capacity.”

The National Agriculture Society (SNA) surveyed 103 producers in different areas between Valparaiso and Biobío to determine damage suffered after the earthquake.
The biggest problems occurred in irrigation capacity, with 70% suffering severe losses in farm irrigation canals, mechanized irrigation systems and micro-irrigation.

“If the intensity of irrigation is less than what plants need, then water stress occurs, which ultimately affects the volume of fruit and fruit weight,” said Ema Budinich, SNA Research Director. The rice industry also suffered heavy losses due to lack of water, SNA studies showed.

Between 30% and 40% of respondents reported damage to their current storage and processing facilities and on their plantations. 43% reported problems within warehouses, silos and vats and 28% in their ability to refrigerate products. Grapes for winemaking were specifically affected.

The study showed that the immediate effects of the earthquake were the loss of basic services, with 30% encountering problems with lack of electricity, 18% without running water and 17% suffering fuel shortages.

Fifty percent of all producers said problems in irrigation and storage could take one to three months before they could return to normal.

A representative from Supervalu, the second-largest supermarket company in the US, said they were still assessing the long-term impacts of Chile’s earthquake on agricultural supplies.

“In the short-term we have seen shortages of seedless grapes, blueberries, and some stone fruit,” she said, adding that consumers should expect to see rising prices on these items due to supply restrictions.

Fruit exports from Chile to North America increased more than 700% over the past 16 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented.

The US Department of Agriculture statistics shows Chile exported US$1.3 billion worth of fresh fruit in 2003, and US$1.5 billion in packaged food exports in 2008. Chile is the primary supplier of grapes (for non-wine purposes) during the US winter and exported US$1.9 billion worth of wine to the US last year.

By Laura Burgoine – Santiago Times

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