SANTIAGO - Chile declared a state of emergency on Thursday after a late frost due to unusually low temperatures caused widespread damage to fruit crops in central Chile, potentially hitting wine production in one of South America 's top fruit exporters.
The frost has incurred heavy agricultural losses, Agricultural Minister Luis Mayol said in a ministry press release, adding that the emergency measure will allow stronger government's support for affected families, agricultural producers and farmers.
The measure will also help those families "get back on their feet as soon as possible," by earmarking greater resources for producers in the region, especially small and medium-size farms, the minister said.
Temperatures have dropped as low as 8 degrees Celsius below zero since spring started in the southern hemisphere, destroying many crops, especially fruits, in Chile's central O'Higgins region, a main fruit and wine producing area. Fruit exporters have estimated losses of around one billion U.S. dollars.
Meanwhile, the Chilean Wine Corporation estimates losses of 150 million dollars from damages to vineyards, while the government says 50,000 jobs may have been lost. According to experts, mid- September frosts have been especially harmful for white grapes.
Among the most damaged fruit crops are peaches, kiwis, nectarines, apricots, avocados and other vegetables, which will delay the hiring of farmhands, producers said.
Fruit and wine are Chile's two important industries, with fruit exports valuing 4.3 billion dollars and wine exports worth 1.8 billion dollars in 2012, according to government figures.