The region of O’Higgins, mainly develops activities of the primary sector, such as agriculture and mining. The zone’s soil is considered some of the country’s most fertile, reason for which thousands of hectares are devoted to industrial crops, fruit and vegetable farms, among others. Meanwhile, El Teniente is the most important mineral deposit, with high levels of production for the country.
Animal farming also take place in this zone, mainly concentrated on breeding pigs and poultry.
As a byproduct of this process, the region counts with a food processing industry that has reported significant income thanks to its exported products.
According to the National Statistics Institute (INE), during the first quarter of 2008, regional economic activity experienced a slight growth in production of around 0.8% compared to the same quarter last year. Meanwhile, the regional unemployment rate reached 8.4% for the April-June quarter for this year, which meant an increase compared to past statistics.
Mining production is basically centered around the activities that take place at El Teniente, a deposit located in the comuna (county) of Machali, nearly 63 km east of Rancagua and at an altitude of 2,500 masl.
Property of the National Copper Corporation, Codelco, it is the largest underground mine in the world, with nearly 2,400 km of galleries and tunnels. El Teniente is also the second most important division within the state mining company, after Codelco Norte.
The extraction method is known as block caving, which fragments the material using explosives; this way, thanks to the effects of gravity, it sinks down to the lower levels and is transported out of the mine with small trains.
Later, the copper is melted down and refined at the Caletones smelter.
During 2007, El Teniente produced 404,738 metric tons of fine copper, which were transformed into fire refined (RAF) bars and copper cathodes. At the same time, a significant amount of molybdenum was obtained as a byproduct of the extraction process of copper, reaching 5,000 metric tons. This metallic element is also exported overseas.
Although the grade of the mineral has dropped over the last few years, it has an average of 1.2%, this has been compensated by the higher volume of extracted material.
Soil quality, climate stability and good irrigation conditions are just some of the factors that come together to make this activity one of the most important ones in the region.
Regional agricultural production is highly diverse and is concentrated in the valleys that crisscross the Cachapoal and Tinguiririca rivers. Annual crops cover some 150,000 hectares, with corn and wheat as the main products. The hectares devoted to fruit plantations are also very important because they are a great source of employment in the region. The most cultivated fruits are apples, nectarines, pears and kiwis.
Meanwhile, in the coastal areas, where the soil is less fertile and irrigation conditions are different from the ones mentioned above, unirrigated land crops are farmed.
There are several grapevine plantations in Colchagua that are meant for wine making.
The area has unbeatable climate and edaphological conditions, which are ideal for the growth of different grapes.
Grapevines have also been planted on the hillsides, where soil is thinner, water resources are more scarce and radiation is greater.
Exports and industrial development
The industrial sector is closely linked to mining and agriculture. The latter has received quite a boost during the last few decades thanks to the creation of modern refrigeration plants, dehydrators and factories that make concentrates, all located in zones like Doñihue, Rengo and Malloa, among others. A sizeable portion of the products made in these agro-industrial plants are exported towards different destinations, which, at the same time, create many jobs.
The products exported from the region of O’Higgins represent nearly 7% of the national total. Highlights include copper and its byproducts, fresh and dried fruit, meat and vines. Their main destinations are the United States, Holland and China.
Since there are no ports in the area, many of the shipments head abroad through San Antonio and Valparaiso.