Chile’s 8.8 and Your Produce

March 19, 2010

The devastating earthquake that rocked the Chilean city of Concepci?

The devastating earthquake that rocked the Chilean city of Concepci? In, the second largest metropolitan city in Chile, and the surrounding areas last month may seem like a world away, but has in fact affected American supermarkets and dinner tables from coast to coast.  The United States imports grapes, peaches, kiwis, salmon, and wine from Chile and according to the US Chamber of Commerce, the US is Chile’s number one trade partner.  The 2004 Free Trade Agreement opened the borders for trade between both countries and has facilitated an increase in Chilean exports by over twofold. 
The Chilean farms that contribute to the majority of exported crops were not severely affected by the quake.  Some had reported downed power lines and a disrupted water supply a few days after the earthquake, but to date the majority have been restored.  Perishable fruit held in refrigerated warehouses at the time of the earthquake, had to be dumped due to the days of lost of power. 
Proximate to the epicenter, key infrastructure such as roads, bridges, tunnels, warehouses, processing and packaging plants, ports and basic communication lines were severely damaged and are the main cause for a crippling in Chiles’ ability to export goods.  According to Roberta Cook, PhD Cooperative Extension Marketing Economist at UC Davis, devastated warehouses have left produce ready for export with nowhere to be cooled and thus if goods arrive at ports and can’t be shipped immediately they are often discarded. 
Chile contributes to over 24 percent of the global grape market- think raisins, wine and of course table grapes.  According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (and probably most school kids lunchboxes) raisins are the most popular dried fruit in America.  Fortunately, Chile is coming to the end of the shipping season for fresh produce like grapes- so as many consumers are currently feeling the effects of a disrupted and more expensive fresh produce supply, it is only temporary.  However, this is not the case for kiwi and avocado production, as Chile is weeks away from peak production and export season- shoppers may experience price increases at the checkout in coming months. recommends manufacturers, supermarkets and consumers support Chilean goods, but at the same time understand that the produce section may not boast the usual abundance.  As we welcome the Spring and the weather warms up across the country, now is the time to embrace local and seasonal produce.