Hurricanes’ destruction deepens US farm crisis

US - In addition to the impact on the US economy from rising fuel prices, hurricanes Katrina and Rita have dealt a critical blow to American agriculture, which is already reeling from the worst drought in the midwestern states in nearly three decades.

The destruction of crops, livestock and farm equipment, as well as the devastation of New Orleans—the key port in the export of US agricultural goods to the world market and the import of fertilizers, chemicals and industrial commodities—threatens to throw thousands more farmers into bankruptcy, not only in the storm-struck areas, but throughout the US.

Even before Hurricane Rita hit western Louisiana and eastern Texas on September 24—wiping out several rural agricultural and fishing towns with the storm’s 120-mph winds and the storm surge that followed—initial estimates put agricultural losses from Hurricane Katrina at more than $3 billion.

Dairy producers were among the hardest hit by the first hurricane, as power failures made milking and cold storage virtually impossible, forcing many farmers to dump their products. Poultry farmers lost millions of chickens and up to 100,000 head of cattle—70 percent of the herd—may have died in southeast Louisiana alone.

In addition, cotton was blown from plants, rice fields were destroyed and 20 percent of the sugar crop in Louisiana was wiped out, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. In New Iberia, Louisiana, where salt water flooded the cane fields, killing the roots of the plants, local officials said it would take years for farmers to bounce back.

Also hard hit was the region’s aquaculture, with shrimp trawlers and oyster boats tossed ashore, processing plants wiped out or left without power, and polluted waters being pumped to the sea, threatening the safety of future harvests. Some analysts predict the storm will end the once-dominant Gulf Coast shrimp industry, which has already seen the loss of half its fleet over the last decade due to rising fuel prices and lower-cost imports.

calendar icon 30 September 2005
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