Chile heavy rains likely caused over $1 billion in agriculture losses

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Heavy rains in Chile's central south farming region last week may have caused at least $1 billion in losses, according to estimates by authorities and the industry.

The extreme weather conditions led the government to declare a state of catastrophe last week as dangerous rains pounded isolated communities and at least three people dead.

The government of President Gabriel Boric issued last week an agricultural emergency for 100 municipalities, approving some $8.3 million to replace irrigation infrastructure, canal systems and other aid measures for farmers, who called for more help.

"We are talking about damage of more than $1 billion," the president of the National Agricultural Society (SNA), Antonio Walker, said at a press conference after meeting with Chilean Agriculture Minister Esteban Valenzuela on Monday.

"There is damage to small, medium and large farmers, producers that supply the local market and also a lot of orchards that are dedicated to export," he added.

Aside from damage to irrigation systems and riverside areas, there were also losses of fruit and vegetable orchards and fodder for animals, Valenzuela told reporters.

Besides being a top exporter of copper, the South American nation is also a strong agricultural and forestry exporter with shipments of fresh fruit and nuts, pulp, wine and wood.

Walker said that urgent measures needed to be taken before the arrival of the southern spring in September, when certain crops are irrigated.

Farmers also now fear that the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has brought heavy rains to central Chile after years of water scarcity, could cause further instability in the coming spring months.

(Reporting by Natalia Ramos; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Sandra Maler)