Intense snowstorms and frosts hit Patagonia amid one of the region's worst winters in two decades, which has badly affected the agricultural sector. More than 100 000 livestock animals have perished, according to officials' first estimate of losses, who also warned that herdsmen in the highlands may lose up to 70 percent of the flock. In early August, an agricultural disaster emergency was declared for the affected territories.
Officials conducted the first assessment of losses together with technicians from the Agriculture Technology Institute, covering highlands next to the cordillera.
"Anyhow, we are talking of at least 100 000 sheep and 5 000 cattle," said provincial livestock secretariat Tabare Bassi this week.
Bassi further warned that the severe weather could cause the death of 70 percent of the flock in the high areas of the Patagonian Argentina's Rio Negro Province.
Intense snowfall followed by frosts affected mostly small farmers with flocks no larger than 250 heads, "which makes it a serious survival challenge," he said.
"We estimate that the worse losses are along the mountainous terrain between 1 000 and 1 300 m (3 280 to 4 260 feet) above sea level, while at sea level we can expect sheep mortality in the range of 30 percent."
While snow in the lower lands will help renew pastures during spring, Bassi pointed out that the main concern is the small farmers in the highlands who make money out of wool and survive winter feeding on mutton.
"We will have to give them some sort of support."
Rio Negro senator Alberto Weretilneck proposed an initiative requesting extensive economic aid for the affected farmers, "which is one of the conditions considered in the Sheep Farming Recovery Fund," when there is an agriculture emergency as a result of severe weather conditions.
Weretilneck recalled that in early August, the province has declared an agriculture emergency, and it is urgent to enforce measures that will enable them to address the situation, which is forecast to worsen.
Patagonia has been gripped by one of its worst winters in the last 20 years, with Rio Negro among the worst affected provinces.
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