Chile dairy farmers sound alarm over drought in south

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 27, 2015 3:01 PM

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Dairy farmers in southern Chile warned on Friday that they are facing a critical situation in the face of a drought that has hit the region particularly hard over the southern hemisphere summer.

Following a country-wide drought that began in 2007, January was one of the driest months in the region since records began, with many parts of the usually lush, green area receiving zero rainfall.

Dairy farming organization Aproleche said fields were parched and farmers were already tapping into forage stored for the winter to feed cattle now.

"The only strategy is: invest large sums of money in regenerating dead meadows, grow supplementary crops before the autumn, and/or eliminate a significant part of the herd, to reduce the effect on feed reserves," said Dieter Konow, president of the union's regional arm Aproleche Osorno.

Local milk production had fallen 8 percent in February and could be down 15 percent in March, the union said. About a third of Chile's dairy production comes from Osorno.

Aproleche is asking the government for financial aid and the use of cloud-seeding to induce rain.

Although the South American country is not a significant exporter of dairy products, and most farmers are small-scale, a drop in production from the south could lead to higher domestic prices and further flame stubbornly high inflation.

Drought is already hampering production of copper in Chile, the world's no.1 producer of the metal.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Marguerita Choy)