SANTIAGO – Pisco exports are becoming a growing source of hard currency for Chile, prompting scientists to develop technologies that help mitigate the impact of climate change-induced drought on that alcoholic beverage’s main raw material – the pisco grape.
Experts from the University of Chile’s Regional Agronomic Studies Center have spent years investigating the valleys of the north-central region of Coquimbo with a view to helping members of the CAPEL pisco producers’ cooperative make more efficient use of irrigation water in the production of pisco – an amber-colored brandy made in that South American country and neighboring Peru.
“We’re now working on a project that primarily aims to optimize the use of irrigation water to improve our expectations about the crop – its longevity and how it should be managed, and by extension its yield,” University of Chile researcher Oscar Seguel told EFE.
According to ProChile, an organization that promotes the country’s exports of goods and services, Chilean pisco exports were valued at $1.3 million in the first half of 2017, up 54 percent from the same period of last year.
That growth has spurred more research interest in protecting that beverage’s main raw material – the pisco grape, which is grown in the northern regions of Atacama and Coquimbo.
Experts are primarily interested in preparing farmers for an eventual new drought like the one that devastated northern Chile between 2007 and 2014, drastically affecting harvests and leaving thousands of inhabitants without their main source of income.
Agricultural engineer Rolando Saavedra, who works directly with farmers, said his goal was to install equipment with “telemetric capacity” that has never been employed in the area but would facilitate remote consulting.
Frequency-domain reflectometry (FDR) probes – sensors that continuously monitor the water content of soil – have already been installed in that region.
“With this data, farmers can know if (the water content) is over the limit, if it’s the right amount or if it’s below the optimal level,” Saavedra added.
One farmer in a key agricultural area known as the Choapa Valley, Pablo Aracena, said the benefits of the new scientific approach were already apparent, saying a yield of 53 tons of pisco grapes per hectare was obtained in the last harvest, compared to less than half that total previously.