Of the total land area of 74.8 million hectares (184 million acres),2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) is arable land. Until 1940, Chile was substantially self-sufficient in most basic foodstuffs. Since World War II (1939–45), serious food deficits have developed, adding to the nation’s external payments burden.

Agricultural production of major crops in 1999 (in tons) was as follows: sugar (raw), 448,000; wheat, 1,197,000; corn, 624,000; oats, 201,000; barley, 81,000; rapeseed (canola) 72,000; and rice, 61,000.

Agriculture was one of the sectors most adversely affected by the recession of 1982, but it quickly recovered by the mid-1980s. Poor results in the traditional agricultural sector inhibit a more rapid expansion in agriculture. One of the areas of most rapid growth is in fresh fruit, with the production of grapes rising by 235% between 1981 and 1985. The fruit harvest in 1999 (in tons) included grapes, 1,575,000; apples, 1,165,000; peaches and nectarines, 310,000; pears, 350,000; oranges, 185,000; and lemons and limes, 110,000. Avocado production for 1999 was estimated at 82,000 tons, up from 39,000 tons during 1989–91. Most of the avocado orchards are in central Chile, from Region IV to Region VI.

The traditional land system, inherited from colonial times, has retarded maximum use. Chile’s first agrarian reform law, passed in 1962 and supplemented by a constitutional reform in 1963, enabled the government to expropriate and subdivide abandoned or poorly cultivated land and compensate the landowner in installments. Another agrarian reform law was passed in 1967 to clarify expropriation and settlement procedures and to permit an increased turnover rate. By the end of the Frei administration in November 1970, some 1,400 agricultural estates, representing3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres), had been confiscated and converted to asentamientos (agricultural communities).

The pace of expropriation was accelerated by the Allende government, which by 1972 had doubled the previous administration’s figure for land acquisitions. By taking over virtually all of the land subject to redistribution under the 1967 reform act, the Allende government effectively transformed the Chilean land tenure system. In addition, agricultural laborers, often led by militants to the left of the Allende government, illegally seized some 2,000 farms. Following the 1973 coup, the military regime returned almost all farms in the last category to their original owners; the expropriated land was redistributed to 45,000 smallholders. In 1978, the land reform law was replaced by new legislation that removed restrictions on the size of holdings