Iowa Public Television


Agricultural Cost of Katrina Mounts

posted on September 23, 2005

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

In what is becoming all too familiar for residents of the South, as many as one million people have been ordered to evacuate the Gulf Coast as another hurricane bears down on the Texas-Louisiana border.

While Hurricane Rita was downgraded to a Category 3 storm from its worst-case Category 5 status earlier this week, it's still powerful enough to inflict serious damage.

As officials prepare for yet another onslaught, the toll of Rita's predecessor, Hurricane Katrina, is still being tallied. Estimates of the total cost of restoration and cleanup run into the tens of billions of dollars, making Katrina the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

Agricultural losses make up a significant portion of that expense. That's why any damage resulting from Rita's arrival will only compound the financial misery blamed on Katrina, as well as other weather-related mayhem from this past summer.


Agricultural Cost of Katrina Mounts

The government issued its first official estimate of agricultural losses due to Hurricane Katrina this week -- and the numbers are staggering.

According to the agriculture department, Katrina destroyed $900 million dollars worth of crops and livestock in a handful of southern states.

Calling the analysis, a "preliminary" estimate, government economists said producers lost cattle, hogs, chickens and row crops. But most of the damage was felt in the fruit, vegetable and nursery sectors.

While Louisiana and Mississippi bore the brunt of Katrina, Florida's agricultural industries were especially hard hit. Authorities estimate the damage to Florida's fruit, vegetable and nursery industries at $400 million.

Bobby Lee, Superior Foliage: "It can be devastating to us and it will filter down to the rest of the people in the state if the nursery industry and agriculture in general is not looked after."

Katrina also caused an estimated $50 million in losses to the sugarcane industry. And much of the acreage not destroyed was pushed down making harvesting more difficult and expensive.

Cotton producers also took a beating with direct crop losses of $30 million in Mississippi and $10 million in Louisiana.

Row crop producers fared a bit better, but still incurred damages. USDA estimates corn damages at $14 million and soybean losses at 17 million.

In the livestock sector, poultry producers appear to have been hit the hardest. USDA estimates 200,000 chickens were lost in Alabama and more than 6 million birds and 2,400 poultry barns in Mississippi.

Not included in the USDA estimates are damages to the timber industry, but earlier estimates conducted by the Forest Service peg those losses at $5 billion.

While the agricultural damage caused by Katrina is significant, this summer's drought actually inflicted more harm to agricultural commodities.

According to USDA, the arid conditions in the Eastern Corn Belt caused an estimated $1.3 billion in production losses of corn and soybeans.

But, with another tropical tempest, Hurricane Rita, bearing down on the Gulf coast, officials in Texas are hoping that scenes of damages in New Orleans aren't a preview of coming attractions in their state.

Tags: agriculture disasters Hurricane Katrina hurricanes markets news storms weather