The items and projects that transform Biobío and La Araucanía

The strong growth of the area with fruit trees in the last ten years, which is close to the 15 thousand hectares in both regions, and the arrival of new species, such as cherry and hazel, expand the productive map. 

The works to build Agropel's new industrial oats plant in Lautaro, north of Temuco, are moving fast. It will begin to process some 2.500 monthly tons of cereal in August, almost three times more than the facilities that the Fernández family had during that year, from where it exports peeled oats, flakes and flour to more than ten countries.

Through the window of his office, a few meters from the construction, Gastón Fernández Rojas, partner and manager of the company he leads along with his four sisters in La Araucanía, looks with a smile at the progress. He says that in just three more years they will be able to operate it at full capacity, since with their own production -which this season amounts to 1.500 hectares- they will only supply the 25% and the rest will buy it from other farmers. He also says that vertical integration in this grain, from sowing to export, started with a crisis.

«The year 2000 the oatmeal was not worth anything, as it is happening this year, and we had to think what to do with it. Together with other farmers, we decided to export it to Peru without processing, and it was a better business. That same year we bought a small plant, used, and since then we have not stopped exporting«he recalls, adding that among his plans is to add another plant to package oats in small formats, and export them with his clients' brands.

The entrepreneur also plans to increase his 84 hectares of blueberries, which he started to plant in 2004, and reach 100 hectares in the coming years, to consolidate the capacity of the exporter Berries San Luis, which formed in parallel to the oat business and with the one that started direct sending his fruit four seasons ago.

«In these businesses, with each intermediary you are losing. And, as we had the export of oats, add the blueberries helped lower costs, because I could integrate the two businesses«he says, while checking how the harvest is progressing in the orchard of the El Pedregal farm, which last year won the Anasac Field of the Year contest in La Araucanía.

With four thousand hectares of annual crops, potatoes and blueberries, the integration model of Gastón Fernández is one of the examples of how the new items step by step are changing the face of the area and reflects part of its changes in the last decade, where the surface with oats grew 77% between 2006 and 2016, and the fruit tree plantations almost tripled (see infographic), despite the conflicts that have marked the agricultural and forestry activities of La Araucanía in that period.

They are joined projects in European hazelnut, cherry and walnut in the region and the south of the Biobío Region, in addition to the incorporation of new initiatives in cereals and even vineyards, which are diversifying the productive map of an area where they reigned the wheat and the forests.

Dare with the cherries

Patricia Aguilera never imagined that she would grow cherries. She is a teacher and, until 2013, when her father died, she had been teaching 32 for years at the San Francisco de Asís school in Angol, in the Biobío region. That year he took charge of a livestock field that he inherited almost on the border with La Araucanía and, seeing that it was hard to reach blue figures with this activity and sowing annual crops, he decided to plant fruit trees.

«I did not like the countryside. I felt very safe doing classes, I felt very old to change subjects and I had no idea about cherry trees, but I knew that I did not want to sell the field, that fruit growing is moving south and that it was much more profitable, so I decided to plant in 2014«he comments, while touring his 30-hectare orchard planted with the Regina variety, which he harvested for the first time this season.

Its garden is part of the 316 hectares of cherry trees that currently exist in the Biobío -without considering the surface of the new Region of Ñuble- and that together with La Araucanía account for a little over a thousand hectares, almost three times as much as it existed in 2006 in both areas.

Although Patricia Aguilera admits that the change from the classroom to the field was not easy, she affirms that today she is in love with her new activity and that she wants to reach the 50 hectares in the coming years. In order to learn, she assures that she has been a key adviser, both with her brother Ricardo -producer and exporter of cherries, and former manager of Copequen nurseries- and with the Technological Transfer Group (GTT) that was formed last year in Angol, where she participates along with 15 farmers, almost all new in the field.

«I want to continue improving myself. With the group of producers we have to have our exporter, we have to go see other orchards in Germany and how they receive our containers in China, because with those experiences you learn.", He says.

Diversification with hazel trees

A few days are left for the wheat harvest in the foothills of the south of the Biobío, near Mulchén, and the golden spikes gleam between eucalyptus and pine hills. In the middle of them, in an area of ​​dry land and almost depopulated, the 150 hectares of hazel trees that Cristián García began planting next to his father last year seem like a mirage, even though in that region there are almost 400 hectares of the dried fruit, and more than 4 thousand in neighboring Araucanía.

Water was the key to plant those trees. Although it is a rainy area with large rivers, a good part of the fields only have possibilities for irrigation with groundwater, since there are no reservoirs or systems of irrigation canals that benefit them.

«The Bureo River passes near this field, but it is about 100 meters below, so for us it is not feasible to obtain water, because of the cost it would have. We were lucky enough to make wells and find water, which gives us about 70 liters per second and allows us to have this area of ​​fruit trees«explains Cristián García, while detailing that he planted the yamhill and giffoni varieties and that he would like to grow more on the surface.

In addition to the family project, it has another 27 hectare of European hazel in a nearby field, with which it will grow until reaching 50 hectares this year, on land that until now is forestry. The decision is due to the fact that, according to Cristián García, forests today are more profitable than traditional crops, but hazel is much more attractive.

«In a moment the eucalyptus trees were the best alternative that we had in this area, but not anymore. Once they are harvested, the cost of unropping to plant hazel trees is not so great and it will pay off. Several friends have already done it and it's not crazy", it states.

He also believes that the hazelnut is a good option for traditional farmers to enter the fruit, because it is not as intensive as other species, it is mechanized and in the future they can use the infrastructure of grain storage for hazelnuts.

«This also opens the appetite and makes us want to plant other species that have even more profitability, such as walnuts or cherry trees, and I think we are going to do some tests«projects Cristián García.

Apples with Mapuche stamp 

In the middle of 2015, the 48 families of the Mapuche community Antonio Rapimán received from La Conadi the La Montaña farm, some 490 hectares in the Perquenco commune, planted with 79 hectares of apple trees and 140 of peppermint, where today they also grow wheat and lupine.

To continue working the field, 40 families of the community formed a cooperative with the same name and have been two seasons in which they have continued exporting apples, as suppliers of the company San Clemente, and mint extract to the United States, thanks to the loans managed by the leader of the cooperative, María Rapimán.

«As a community, nowhere do they give us credit, because we have to prove heritage and these lands can not be mortgaged. But I found a legal void in the water rights, with which I could enforce the rights of five liters per person, of all the members of the cooperative, and with that we got it«says María Rapimán, and details that with these funds they were able to buy inputs and pay for labor to continue in the apple business.

Along with that, they started selling the fruit that does not qualify for export to the Junaeb and they have plans to produce their own juice - in a first attempt last year they failed, because it required an investment of $ 180 million - along with starting a project of five hectares of cherry trees, something that has not yet studied in detail.

«What the Conadi should do is that, if it buys land, it is delivered accompanied by a productive development, because if it were not for our perseverance, we could not have followed it. This is a gold mine, there is everything you want to produce, but without resources you can not get going«says María Rapimán, although the timely delivery of that field was questioned, since the community does not belong to Perquenco, but to the commune of Padre Las Casas.

Source: Revista del Campo

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