(Jan. 18) As California growers calculate the costs of the killer freeze, shippers in Chile look to see how they might fill the supply vacuum.

“The citrus losses are in the San Joaquin Valley, and they are affecting mainly oranges and mandarins in a lower degree,” Ronald Bown, president of the Chilean Exporters Association, said Jan. 17.

What Chilean citrus is available to fill the void created by California’s freeze is limited by U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, Bown said.

“The Chilean citrus permitted in the U.S. are the clementines and lemons, which, even though they might be affected by the San Joaquin freezing, they are not the main products damaged,” Bown said. “Chile is not an orange provider to the U.S. yet since we are in the process of discussing the terms with the USDA. This might prove how important it is to the U.S. consumer to possibly have available alternatives such as the Chilean citrus. Even so, there might be an increase in the demand of clementines to help the mandarin market.”

Chile, however, may increase its shipments of other fruit items to U.S. retailers as alternatives to citrus, Bown said.

“The market is still in the process of evaluating the damages, and probably we won't know the real impact until a couple more days,” he said. “But it’s logical to think that the market is looking for alternatives right now, and Chile seems to be a logical one, considering the items that we are currently providing as part of the Chilean offer.”

The ongoing citrus woes in California could ultimately prove a boon to Chilean citrus exports to U.S. markets, Bown said.

“There might be a positive impact for both lemons and clementines, but the largest positive impact might be for the Chilean oranges that now rise as a logical alternative for the market as soon as the USDA authorizes their entry,” he said.