Frost damage cuts 50 million boxes from Chile’s exportsNEW ORLEANS — Chilean winter fruit exports to the world will be off substantially in the coming season because of the worst frost in more than 80 years.

Ronald Bown, president of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association, Santiago, updated expectations of Chilean crop loss at a news conference Oct. 19 at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2013 expo.

Freezing temperatures Sept. 17 and a week later socked Chilean orchards with the worst cold since 1929, Bown said. The frigid temps hit growing areas from the third to the seventh region in Chile, with temperatures falling to 19 degrees Fahrenheit for an average of seven hours. The affected area includes orchards near Copiapo, La Serena, Valparaiso, Rancagua and Talca.

Last year, Chilean fruit exporters sold about 282 million boxes of fruit to global markets, and for 2013-14, Bown said he expects exports to fall about 50 million boxes short of that level in the 2013-14 campaign.

Taking into account that production was predicted to rise 5% to 7% before the cold hit, the minimum total damage is more accurately estimated closer to 60 million to 65 million cartons compared with Chile’s potential.

Bown said it is impossible to speculate now how the frost will affect the distribution of Chilean winter fruit on world markets, since decisions will be made by growers, exporters and importers during the season as the crop is harvested and marketed.

“What is going to happen in the U.S. is very difficult to predict,” he said. In 2011, the U.S. took about 42% of Chile’s total grape exports.

The effect of the frost will mainly be in stone fruit, though grape volume could also down an average of about 15%, he said. Early grapes will fare better than later-season grapes, he said.

“In the case of the Copiapo Valley, we don’t expect as much damage, and that crop is looking very good,” he said.

On the other hand, kiwifruit damage is rated very heavy, at close to 60%, Bown said. The U.S. in 2011 bought about 12% of Chile’s kiwifruit exports, according to United Nations statistics.

Though he said the Chilean fruit industry is determined to regain its footing as fast as possible, Bown said growers may need a couple of years and close to $1 billion in capital to fully recover from the frost damage, he said.