The walnut industry is one of the most advanced in the Chilean agricultural sector, and after many years, the product has earned a reputation as a high quality commodity, with noteworthy investments made by exporters in high-tech processing plants.
According to official figures for the year 2015, Chile has a total of 28,000 hectares planted with walnuts. For 2016, prospects pointed to a 10% increase in the production volume and a 16% growth of exports compared to the previous year. This increase in volume should remain unchanged, despite the frosts that hit Chile a couple of weeks ago.
During FreshPlaza's trip to Chile, we had the opportunity to pay a visit to the facilities and production fields of La Invernada, one of the main producers and exporters of walnuts in the South American country. "Chile is a privileged area when it comes to the production of walnuts, mostly thanks to its hot and dry summers and cold and humid winters, which are the ideal conditions for the cultivation of walnut trees. Also, the natural isolation provided by the country's geography allows for a minimal use of agrochemicals for crop protection," affirmed Cristóbal Socías, commercial director, as we entered the facilities.
From April to December, when demand usually peaks, they have enough fresh walnuts to meet the needs of their customers. During this period, they employ an average of 100 workers, who help guarantee the highest quality and productivity. There is also no lack of high-tech equipment, which allows them to minimise damage to the product and supply walnuts of all grades.
"Nobody buys blindly"
While showing us around the production plant, Cristóbal explained his vision regarding the market. "The most important thing is to maintain the high quality levels that our customers are accustomed to and increase productivity day by day, striving to improve and learn whenever we can. This is absolutely essential if we want to be successful, as is the promotion of Chilean walnuts at the retail level. If I want someone to buy something, I have to show it. Nobody buys blindly and without any knowledge. While the vast majority of our production is sold, we have to create demand," stressed the expert.
Flowers were already starting to appear on the trees again, so during our visit to one of the fields we were able to appreciate the great potential that they have as walnut producers. Juan Ignacio Sánchez, an agronomist, highlighted that "every year, we are increasing our production capacity, and the high-end irrigation technologies that we are using make it possible for us to maximise our production. Seeing these first fruits, I can predict that the coming production will be very good, much better than this year's."
With these good prospects, and to tackle the increase in demand, in mid-March, just before the campaign starts, La Invernada will inaugurate its new production plant. At present, they have 900 hectares and the plan is to gradually increase the acreage. Also, in the next campaign they will be exploring the export of almonds as part of the firm's expansion process.
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