Cranberries Austral Chile

This week, Pine Island hosted the Cranberries Austral Chile (CAC) post-harvest board meeting. CAC, located in Frutillar, Chile, was founded in 1993, and Bill has been president since 2008.

While there are many similarities to North American cranberry operations, a cranberry farm in Chile also has practices and challenges that are unique to the area. “The climate is very different,” says board member Francisco Prado. “It’s not as humid in Chile as it is in New Jersey, so while we have problems with Phytophthora in areas with poor drainage, otherwise it’s not something we generally need to worry about.” One of their current post-harvest targets is improving water management and drainage; Bill points out that if irrigation and drainage are under control then the rest is just fine-tuning.

Chile also has a lot of heavy frost. While Pine Island’s frost season is typically April through the beginning of June, CAC handles frost from September to February, and sometimes even into March. (While CAC does not need to do a winter flood, September through December is their spring and summer.) Board member Victor Henriquez says, though, that the cold nights actually give Chilean cranberries a real advantage: “The temperature difference after nightfall is very high, and that makes a huge difference in color. We get a beautiful dark red color, which is a very attractive attribute for our concentrate.”

Water can be a challenge. “We have wonderful water,” Francisco says. “We’re close to the mountains so most of it is very clean and clear.” But there aren’t really any natural lakes like there are in New Jersey. CAC had to dig reservoirs, and they also have three big wells to fill them. It makes irrigation a bit more of an effort, especially when it’s dry. Last December brought its own particular challenge: 23 days of rain.

Heavy rains occurring during the bloom period and affected bee populations, causing worry about pollination. Despite that, this year’s harvest went very well! The CAC team began harvest on April 15th and finished May 23rd, averaging 6.5 acres/day with 7 to 8 harvest machines. The crop came in higher than the estimated numbers, which is excellent considering the weather conditions.

Of course, while rain was a problem for them over the summer, they do not have some of the typical weather problems Pine Island has had in New Jersey. “We don’t get thunderstorms or tornadoes like up here,” Victor and Francisco tell us. “Of course, we have earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s really a trade-off!”

*Chile photos by Cristina Tassone