The economic news of the week was far less remarkable than the weather. Briefly, *consumer prices climbed just one-tenth of a percent in August, a sign that inflation is in check ... *shoppers got tight-fisted, allowing retail sales to drop ... and *industrial production slowed, suggesting the economy still is working through some soft spots.
Now to the weather. Hurricane Ivan, the most deadly of three tropical storms to strike the U.S. in the past eight weeks, made landfall early Thursday... and left a trail of death and destruction as it swept across Dixie. Little was spared, including various crops on the verge of harvest. Combined with flooding rains that damaged crops in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, it was NOT a week to take Mother Nature lightly.
While public safety is the prime concern of gulf coast officials, anxiety is growing over the storm's impact on agricultural commodities.
An estimated $5 billion worth of grain and oilseeds are vulnerable to damage from Hurricane Ivan. Virtually all of the 4.4-billion pound U.S. peanut crop is yet to be harvested and much of it lies directly in harm's way. Even though the bulk of the crop is below ground, peanuts are in peril because excessive moisture increases the risk of disease. That could cause some of the legumes to fall off the plants, thereby decreasing yields.
Other at-risk commodities include more than 300 million bushels each of corn and soybeans, plus smaller amounts of rice, fruit, vegetables and tobacco.
Florida officials have estimated that state's agricultural losses from Hurricanes Charley and Frances will exceed $2 billion dollars. The "Sunshine State's" citrus crop took a major hit from the two previous hurricanes, and officials now are concerned about potential damage to orange groves which could take years to recover.
In Alabama, where growers have begun to harvest some 600,000 acres of cotton, producers were cautiously optimistic of profitable yields. But now with cotton bolls opened the plant is vulnerable to extensive damage from wind and rain. Alabama agricultural officials claim every cotton producer in the state will endure significant damage. Cotton is the world's most popular fiber and the Alabama crop alone is valued at $300 million.