Climate change and frost in Chile: an increasingly frequent phenomenon

Faced with the consequences of an increasingly evident climate change, Chile is facing an increase in the frequency and severity of frosts, a phenomenon that presents serious challenges for the country's agriculture.

Despite the great advances that agriculture has made in recent decades, climatic variability continues to be a major challenge for the success of agricultural production. Within the climatic factors, temperature plays an important role, which although it is necessary for the accumulation of degree days and chilling hours in most deciduous fruit trees, the decrease below the critical temperature that a crop can withstand will result in physiological damage and significant production losses that will affect the economic returns of production.

Frosts in central Chile. Year 2022.

It is well documented and accepted nowadays that the climate change we are experiencing will impact on extreme weather events in relation to frequency and severity, highlighting among them the number of events with extreme temperatures, either hot and cold. Extreme events of maximum temperature and heat waves have become more recurrent (Messeguer-Ruiz et al., 2019) and the frequency and magnitude of these are expected to increase due to climate change (Piticar, 2018). This correlates with what farmers are experiencing in recent seasons. 

Data analyzed through Agromet register more than 40 frost episodes in 2022, with a critical event of even -6.7°C in the coastal zone of the O'Higgins region on May 30, 2022. 

Controlling frost in Chile in 2023

To control frost, there are different control methods that are currently effective and are being implemented in the central-southern part of the country. Among them, the most effective is the use of water spraying systems on crops, which according to the literature can control frosts of up to 7 degrees Celsius below zero depending on the amount of water used, the uniformity of the spraying and the type of sprinkler. 

The use of sprinkler systems for frost control has several advantages over the use of wind towers or heaters.

According to Snyder and Melo-Abreul (2010) the amount of energy required to control a sprinkler system is significantly lower than that required with wind towers, helicopters, or heaters, and therefore the hourly operating costs are lower, as well as the amount of labor required is lower and environmentally friendly. 

PIP Pulsator™ sprinklers in operation.

For example, it does not interfere with bird migration routes, compared to wind towers, heaters or helicopters. It also has no impact on noise, and its consequent impacts on local communities, and with savings in diesel and gas, with the associated decrease in CO2 emissions. At the same time, it allows to be very precise in the area to be controlled, and turns out to be the most cost/efficient per hectare of the alternatives in the market. 

Climate change and more extreme temperatures is a reality that is here to stay, and the Chilean agricultural industry, a pioneer in the development of innovative solutions, is today undoubtedly an example to follow in the world in the adoption of technologies to mitigate them. 

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