Unseasonal snow and low temperatures in recent weeks have caused an estimated $1 billion worth of damage to fruit crops in Chile, reported Reuters on Thursday, with the government declaring a state of emergency after nearly 60 percent of its fruit exports had been affected.
Fruit exports are one of Chile's largest industries after copper, worth an estimated $4.3 billion in 2012, according to government figures. Much of the damaged fruit also affected the nation’s wine industry – the world's 7th largest producer.
Agriculture Minister Luis Mayol on Wednesday pledged aid for farmers and said he would give an estimate on the cost to industry in the next two weeks.
However, Fruit trade association Fedefruta has already given an early estimate of up to $1 billion of damage, claiming that the frost had damaged between 35 percent and 61 percent of stone fruit crops, 57 percent of almonds, 48 percent of kiwi crops and 20 percent of table grapes
“Today it is not an exaggeration to say that around 60 percent of the average of what Chile exports is being lost,” said Fedefruta president Cristian Allendes.
“We have never had a frost of this magnitude – it is a white earthquake – and it is a bit seismic in the sense in that you don’t know how to prevent it. The entities in charge of predicting these things were delayed – there was no good information and the seriousness of what was coming was never announced – 0°C was spoken about never -6°C or -8°C,” he added.
Farmers warned that jobs would be at risk and that prices of produce would rise as a result of the frost damage. This could place further pressure on Chile’s economy, which has slowed this year as investment cooled.
According to the Santiago Times, about 4,000 small-scale farmers could have been affected. There are also worries of 100 percent crop decimation in certain areas, from the Coquimbo Region in the North to the south-central Maule Region.
Following an emergency meeting with the government and creditors on Wednesday, National Agriculture Society president Patricio Crespo said that he would coordinate a working group to help farmers affected by frost, including representatives of both the private and public sectors.
“Today, agriculture and rural Chile have lost part of their flows, in production and therefore, income…The good news is that there exists a strong commitment from the government authorities, the bank and the unions to help the affected producers," Crespo said.