Chile frost hits fruit crops and wine, emergency declared


SANTIAGO, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Chile declared a state ofemergency on Thursday after a late frost caused an estimated $1billion worth of damage to fruit crops, potentially hitting wineproduction as well.

The affected central region is the main fruit and wineproducing area in Chile, the world's No.7 wine producer, andincludes vineyards owned by prominent local wine label Concha yToro.

The industry is one of Chile's most important after copper,with fruit exports worth $4.3 billion in 2012 and wine worth$1.8 billion, according to government figures.

"These frosts are the worst that agriculture has faced in 84years, impacting the area from Coquimbo to Bio Bio," thenational agricultural society said as Agriculture Minister LuisMayol pledged aid for affected farmers.

Fruit trade association Fedefruta has given an earlyestimate of up to $1 billion of damage from the extensive coldsnap in late September.

It estimates the frost damaged between 35 percent and 61percent of stoned fruit crops, 57 percent of almonds, 48 percentof kiwi crops and 20 percent of table grapes.

Early wine grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noirhave also been hit. Chile is best known for its Carmenere grapevariety, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, andwine-making plays an important role in manufacturing.

However, Fedefruta said most crops had not yet reached fullflower and was not yet possible to give an exact damageforecast.

"The good news is that there exists a strong commitment fromthe government authorities, the bank and the unions to help theaffected producers," said Patricio Crespo, head of the nationalagriculture society, which held an emergency meeting with thegovernment and creditors on Wednesday.

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