Without a doubt, recent precipitations in Chile’s central region have been a relief and an incentive for the entire agricultural sector in the face of the severe drought that the country has been suffering from for years. If it keeps raining in the coming months, there is hope of overcoming the historical deficit, thus ensuring the supply of communities and productive activities.
Although production of white meat in Chile and the world is usually less intensive in water use when compared with agriculture or other activities such as mining, it also requires a constant and quality supply. “Over the last 20 years, the production of chicken, turkey and pork has become highly efficient. Significant investments have been made in these three sectors to improve efficiency in the use of water and also in advanced treatment systems, which allow water to be treated, recirculated, and returned to the ecosystem,” says Daniela Álvarez, Head of Sustainability of ChileCarne, the Chilean Meat Exporters’ Association.
There are various initiatives led by pork and poultry producers, such as fertigation, one of the most implemented assets of circular economy in the pork industry, which consists of mixing pork slurry with irrigation water to be used as a fertilizer. It adds macro and micronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc., to the soil, but it also provides key organic matter to improve the quality and structure of the soil.
Currently, 100% of the slurry generated is distributed through this fertigation system to farmers in neighboring communities and fields adjacent to livestock farms. This measure is of great help in agricultural production not only because it hydrates crops, but mainly thanks to the contribution of organic matter and nutrients that improve soil fertility and various properties such as moisture retention, which is key for crops to better withstand water stress.
Gonzalo Balbontín, corn producer from Mallarauco in Melipilla, explains that “as a neighbor of Agrícola AASA since 2005, I have witnessed the enormous effort they have made to improve and minimize the environmental impact of livestock activity in the community of Viña El Campesino. Committed to this cause, I joined the agronomic use of pig slurry because of its enormous benefits in improving the soil and the yield of corn crops, which allows us to save on chemical fertilizers.”
José González, a farmer from Colchagua, commented that “we used it in Chépica, Fundo Las Chiriguas, and the results were quite good. We went from 15,000 to 18,000 kilos per hectare.
According to Daniela Álvarez from ChileCarne, “about 65% of pig slurry generated in Chile is treated with state-of-the-art technologies, such as activated sludge plants, biodigesters, or worm trickling systems, allowing for recirculation in the process and thus higher efficiency in the use of water.”
On the other hand, poultry production is even more efficient in water use, since birds are bred on wood shavings or sawdust litters and water is not used for the daily cleaning of sheds, unlike pork production. Thus, Chilean broiler production uses up approximately 1.8 million m3 of water per year, equivalent to the amount needed to irrigate 360 hectares of corn and, although they do not use much, they keep working on management improvements. In the case of slaughtering plants, all the water used is treated and returned to ground flows or aquifers for later use. A small portion is used in irrigation.
This year, both the pork and broiler production sectors joined Chile Conscious Origin (Chile Origen Consciente), a pilot program of the Ministry of Agriculture focused on sustainability. “In the medium term, the goal is for companies to report their improvements online in this area and their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030) by monitoring key indicators,” explains Álvarez.
The program includes the development of certifiable standards with specific goals and actions aimed at improving companies’ performance, both in conserving water as well as other relevant aspects linked to the sector’s sustainability, which will allow them to envision their results and manage risks efficiently. In the initial stage, the poultry, pork, and dairy sectors have joined the program.[:]