In Chile, some areas are experiencing drought and water scarcity. Unlike drought, which is a meteorological phenomenon, water scarcity depends on the decisions regarding the use of water. Although the agricultural industry in Chile, pork and poultry in particular, are not as water-intensive as others, companies have made significant efforts to mitigate water scarcity by reusing and recirculating water via various measures and systems.

In an interview with ChileCarne, Alejandro Gebauer, General Manager of AASA; Martín Landea, Environmental Deputy Manager of Agrosuper; Carlos Montoya, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Manager of Coexca; Elizabeth Ellmen, Sustainability Manager of Maxagro; and Nicolás Hiriarte, Quality Assurance and Environment Chief of Agrícola Chorombo, analyzed the solutions their companies have incorporated to tackle water scarcity in recent years, as well as the long-term plans, strategies or projects they are considering given the challenges posed by climate change.

Martín Landea, Agrosuper’s Environmental Deputy Manager, explained that one of the pillars of the company’s sustainability strategy is the efficient use of resources throughout the production process. Since 2000, Agrosuper has been adopting state-of-the-art technology to measure and manage the use of water, building and operating eight treatment plants to reuse part of the treated water in its facilities for cleaning sheds and irrigation of agricultural land. The plants have also allowed the company to reduce the externalities of animal production. “The ongoing implementation of the sustainability strategy and particularly of projects related to efficient use of water allowed us to reduce water use by 40% in the pig-breeding area,” confirmed Landea.

In Maxagro, Elizabeth Ellmen said that efficient water management is a priority they have been working on for a long time. “One of the latest steps we took was measuring our water footprint, which was assessed in 2020 with The Water Footprint Assessment standards, an international organization dedicated to finding solutions for a smart use of water. The survey considered the entire production chain for meat and fruit in all of the company’s facilities,” she detailed. In addition, they have been implementing various actions for quite some time. “Just in the last three years, Maxagro has made the necessary investments to meet high water efficiency standards in its facilities, such as incorporating new cleaning systems (quick disconnect hoses, pit/flush system, power washers, etc.), efficient hydration of animals, and a sophisticated mechanized irrigation system for fruit production, just to name a few,” she said.

Carlos Montoya from Coexca explained that the company is reducing net water consumption by implementing the concept of circular economy and reusing water. The main change has been taking the water from deep pits to supply the breeding centers and then the water goes back to the soil as irrigation.

In AASA, the situation is similar. Alejandro Gebauer, the company’s General Manager, explained that various changes have been implemented over time to optimize water use: “we made changes to the pigs’ drinkers that used to be hanging and water was being wasted since the pig couldn’t reach it properly. Currently, feeders come with an integrated drinker, so the water that spills is retained within the system and the pig can drink it throughout the day,” he explained.

In addition, there are ongoing modifications to the sheds’ cleaning system, where pushing-type systems were replaced with pits. This results in a significant reduction of water use as dung falls directly into the pit without the need to push it with water.

They have also built dams to store canal water, drilled deep pits, and purchased surface water rights.

Agrícola Chorombo has been working along these same lines. They had to deepen their wells in most of their pig and poultry farms. Nicolás Hiriarte explained that as of 2010 the company has automated most of the water management system for birds and pigs. “All the farms have low water consumption systems for washing the sheds and managing the water for the birds and pigs. Now we have more modern drinkers that eliminate water waste. We also use high pressure systems for the birds (power washers).”

When it comes to action plans or new projects for the long term, Martín Landea explained that “of course we intend to continue with this strategy we started many years ago to gradually strengthen existing solutions and incorporate new technologies into our facilities. In 2020, Agrosuper created a Water Working Table that brings together various areas of the company to comprehensively address challenges with a cross-disciplinary view, allowing us to implement innovative projects that make the use of this precious resource more efficient.”

In turn, Carlos Montoya mentioned that all the actions implemented respond to a long-term strategy, and thus, they have become the new standard for the farms and facilities where they are applied. “In corporate terms, these actions are first implemented in some farms, we assess their effectiveness, and then implement them in other farms or facilities with improvements learned from the lessons. Undoubtedly, circular economy is in the future for all of our farms, considering all aspects of this economic and productive model. That means recycling as much of the waste as we can to reuse it. In this case, water.” Currently, these strategies are undergoing a continuous improvement process considering the progress and requirements of the project, and they are working on a system to report these measures and their positive environmental impacts.

“The implemented measures we mentioned earlier are part of a general plan that seeks to be sustained and maintained over time. After being treated, the water is used for irrigation of green areas and for cleaning equipment and outdoor areas of the plant. In addition, in the agricultural area we are working with experts from Israel, the leading country in water management.

Finally, and to raise awareness among our teams, we carry out various training and communication campaigns so that everybody at Maxagro recognizes their role in saving water.

Our commitment is to keep strengthening this culture and looking for room to grow and improve water management,” said Elizabeth Ellmen.

AASA and Agrícola Chorombo have no projects in the pipeline. They say the measures they wanted to carry out have already been implemented. However, both companies continue to make improvements to their systems.

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the main threats humanity faces today. This is why companies from various sectors have taken decisive and robust actions to tackle this complex issue. Most of these actions are in line with the recommendations of international organizations both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. It is expected that these measures can help overturn this difficult situation and the negative scenario expected for the next few years.