Chile's agriculture faces enormous challenges in the short term, such as the lack of agricultural labor and the serious consequences that the persistent drought in the country has on this sector.
According to data provided by the Federation of Fruit Producers of Chile (Fedefruta), more than half of the fruit producers have 50% to 70% fewer workers for their tasks in orchards or facilities and, as of last September, the sector expects to have a deficit of more than 150,000 workers for critical tasks. This situation has forced farmers to increase the average salary offer by 20% to 30%, and -in a third of the cases- by up to 40% and 50%.
The Perfect Storm
The labor shortage is compounded by a mega-drought in the central area of the country. According to Carlos Faundez, a postdoctoral researcher at the O'Higgins State University (UOH), “the O'Higgins Region and the country must face this crisis with urgency. We must increase our efficiency in conducting water through irrigation canals, we must control illegal water extraction, encourage the use of high-frequency irrigation systems -such as surface and subsurface drip irrigation-, and improve territorial planning, incorporating fruit species with high efficiency in the use of water.”
He also said they should carry out hydrogeological studies of the hydrographic basins to know how much subsurface water the region currently has and their recharge rates. In addition, it's necessary to study how contaminated the aquifers are by pesticides, antibiotics for veterinary use, and agrochemicals.
This season's issues
Francisco Duboy, the president of the Cachapoal Farmers Federation, said producers are facing serious problems this season. “One of this issues is, undoubtedly, the lack of workforce. We have no real basis to think there could be a significant improvement in the situation. We can only assume that people might return once they stop receiving assistance due to the pandemic from the government. However, we understand the government will issue these bonds up until November, and that they will be paid in December," the leader stated.
According to Fedefruta's survey, 49% of producers estimate that if this situation continues until the summer period, they will have to stop harvesting 20% to 30% of their production. Another 23% consider that they wouldn't be able to harvest 40% to 60% of their production.
It should be noted that, according to data from this federation, in the last five years labor costs have increased by more than 100% and account for more than 60% of all production costs.