Chile is the southernmost producer of rice in the world. Rice has been cultivated here since 1925. Currently and historically, the VII Region of Maule has sowed and produced the largest amount of rice nationwide, providing more than half of the country’s production. The community of Parral is responsible for the largest national production, followed by Retiro. It is precisely in this district where the rice fields of Fundo el Almendro are located, the site of our LOFdrone for this week.
Chile is the southernmost producer of rice in the world. Since the technical feasibility of growing rice was established by the Agronomic Department of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1925, it has been cultivated here. Since that time, the increase in its production has been encouraged by two factors: the construction of the necessary infrastructure, including the Colbún-Machicura Hydroelectric Plant that allowed for the irrigation of a large area of agricultural land; the promotion and support for the use of an important surface of soils considered marginal, since there were no other alternative uses than traditional agriculture (1).
(1) See Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, El Cultivo de Arroz en Chile y sus Expectativas (The Cultivation of Rice in Chile, May 2016) in <http://www2.inia.cl/medios/biblioteca/apartado/NR12985.pdf >.
Currently and historically, the VII Region of Maule has sowed and produced the largest amount of rice nationwide, providing more than half of the country’s production (2). The community of Parral is responsible for the largest national production, followed by Retiro. Here in the community where the rice fields are located at the Fundo el Almendro (3) covering an area of 2,700 ha, there are approximately 1,000 ha currently used for rice cultivation. Two varieties are grown in these cold temperature climates: sapphire rice and diamond rice, both long and wide grains.
(2) See Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias, Mercado del Arroz:(Office of Agricultural Policies and Studies, the Rice Market) Crecimiento en el Mundo y Cambios Productivos en Chile (Worldwide Growth and Production Changes in Chile, May 2016) in <http://www.odepa.cl/wp-conAtent/files_mf/138211656712609.pdf>.
(3) Competition Field of the Year ANASAC, Alberto and Mario Gatica, Los Amos del Arroz (May 2016) in <http://www.campodelaño.cl/reportajes-pdf/56-61gatica.pdf>.
The rice is cultivated in fields of approximately 120 hectares, separated by walls called parapets of about 40-45 cm and made by laser-guided bulldozers. The large parapet is called the head, and perpendicular to the head are small parapets arranged to form squares, whose layout follows the curvature of the ground level. This system of terraces and parapets maintains the level of a layer of water required for the cultivation of rice in both types of plantations: dry and in water. In the case of dry planting, a water layer of up to 20 cm should be achieved, while in the case of planting in water, the layer should ideally be up to 30 cm (4).
(4) Information provided by Carlos Cisternas in December 2015.
The production of rice consists of a series of stages before the commercial grains for consumption can be obtained. First, the planting can be done by machine or by plane; in the case of the Fundo el Almendro, during the 2015-2016 season this was mostly done by plane. The seed is pregerminated and then dropped into the rice field, where it continues its growth. Since rice is a grass, the plant goes through a series of stages: seedling, tillering, fluted, spike and grain filled. In the case of the plants sown on the flight made at the end of 2015, these were in the tiller stage. During this period cleaning is carried out, which consists of removing the invasive aquatic weeds − principally Hualtata − that begin to grow in the rice paddies.
After a period of 150 to 155 days – depending on the temperature – the grain is harvested with an automotive machine and tractor to prevent getting stuck in the mud. This harvest stage occurs between March and April, and it is here that the grain is obtained, which comes with an outer husk or rice hull. From there it goes to the mill, where it is cleaned and then rubbed so as to remove the hull – corresponding to 20% of the grain − and then the bran − corresponding to 10% of the grain − in order to obtain the final white rice grain.