(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 2) Chilean grape exports to the U.S. will be lower than expected in 2010, because of inclement weather, according to a government report.

Frost in several major growing areas, combined with an expectation of poor weather related to El Nino this season, led the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service to forecast a production drop of up to 10% in 2010.

Frost damaged plantings in the Copiapo and Rancagua growing regions and, to a lesser extent, in the Aconcagua region, in September and early October, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service’s Chile Fresh Deciduous Fruit Annual report.

Volumes from the Copiapo region are expected to be down about 5%, or 500,000 boxes, said Omar Abu-Ghazaleh, imports manager for Pacific Trellis Fruit, Reedley, Calif.

That volume loss is manageable, he said. What’s having a bigger effect is the 10-day to two-week delay in the beginning of the Chilean deal. Pacific Trellis received its first West Coast shipments the week of Nov. 30, and is not expected to see product on the East Coast until about Dec. 9.

“There’s still plenty of fruit, but it makes it difficult to get retailers started on promotions, and we won’t see volumes in a major way until the first week of January,” Abu-Ghazaleh said.

On Dec. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16.10-18.10 for 19-pound containers of large globes, up from $13.10-14.10 last year at the same time. Large seedless crimsons were $18.10-22.10, up from $14.10-15.10.

The problems won’t likely end in January, Abu-Ghazaleh said. That’s when Pacific Trellis begins pulling from the San Felipe region of Chile, and because of the weather problems there, volumes could be up to 6 million boxes less than a year ago, he said.

“We don’t anticipate that it will raise the market much, but it could make it snug,” Abu-Ghazaleh said.

Pacific Trellis is filling the gap between California and Chile this season with shipments of sugraones, flames, crimsons and autumn royals from Peru, he said.

Francisco Chacon, marketing director for Santiago-based Dole Chile, said the current season has been a tale of two regions, weather-wise.

“The north and south regions have had a completely different scenario,” he said.

After freezes in early spring, weather in the north has been normal, and volumes will not likely be affected, Chacon said.

In the south, however, the weather has been worse. Cloudy and cold days, with scattered rain in some areas, has made it “extremely difficult” to predict volumes on grapes from southern Chile.

“If the rest of the spring and summer continue with this kind of wild weather, total south volume should be affected at the end,” he said. 

And looking ahead, El Nino promises heavy rains during Chile’s summer months. In addition to the potential effect on volumes, growers could incur substantially higher input costs due to more frequent spraying, according to the report.

Also in the report is a review of the 2009 Chilean grape season. Exports to the U.S. rose close to 10% in 2009, thanks to a more favorable exchange rate when compared to the euro, according to USDA. Chilean grape exports to Europe fell by 15% in 2009.