The summer, which is now slowly coming to an end, was without doubt one of the hottest and driest in Paraguay in recent decades. Temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius were at times seen on the measuring boards in the capital Asunción and especially in the north of the South American country.
While the intense heat is not necessarily a rarity in the country, it was the prolonged absence of rain in particular that posed major challenges for Paraguayan agriculture.
"We have enough water available in itself, but under these circumstances our irrigation system was simply overwhelmed," said Carsten Pfau, who as head of the Agri Terra Group operates Paraguay's third-largest citrus orchards. "Our large trees in particular are suffering, because they need a lot of water in the summer. Younger plantations with still small trees can be supplied with a few liters, but fully-grown citrus plants have completely different needs," says the German entrepreneur. "With the temperatures and the drought we had until February, half of the water evaporates even before it reaches the roots of the trees" Pfau explains. "Other farmers are in a very similar situation; all of them have been caught on the wrong foot by the ongoing drought. Since then, we have had a lot of rain again, many a thunderstorm has been with us, so the situation has eased noticeably."
Next year, Agri Terra Group will install additional irrigation equipment. "Our crops were definitely at risk at times this year, although we always experience a lot of rainfall at the end of a summer every year and knew that the danger would soon be over. We just had to survive until the next downpour, and our team handled the situation extremely well. Nevertheless, we are very likely to underperform this year. The drought was simply too severe this time," says Pfau. "We will again step up our game in terms of irrigation so that we will no longer have to suffer from drought in the coming years," says the Agri Terra managing director.
Normally, a hot summer is a guarantee for particularly tasty citrus fruits; after all, it is the sunlight that creates the sweetness in the fruit in the first place. If sufficient irrigation is provided, particularly high temperatures are even a blessing for oranges, limes and mandarins.
Unchanged basic conditions
Agri Terra had only recently announced its intention to make further massive investments in orange plantations, particularly in view of the concentrate factory currently under development near the small town of Nueva Italia. In the future, the company will be able to process 80,000 metric tons of oranges in the new plant, the majority of which it intends to produce on its own plantations.
"With annual production falling continuously in both Brazil and the USA, we see Paraguay, with its low costs and inherently ideal climatic conditions, as offering exactly the right conditions for generating solid profits in the future with orange juice concentrate and other products derived from oranges," says Pfau, confirming the company's strategy.
The entrepreneur is optimistic: "A year of drought doesn't really change the basic conditions, that's just part of the equation, and good business models usually don't work without challenges anyway."