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Rita losses for farmers reaches $195 million

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Rita cost farmers at least $195 million in crop and livestock losses, pushing the total for that storm and Hurricane Katrina past $1 billion, the Agriculture Department said Tuesday.

However, damage from Midwestern drought hasn't been nearly as bad as forecast, officials said.

The department released a preliminary assessment of agricultural damage from Rita, which inundated the Gulf Coast with high winds and heavy rains after making landfall Sept. 24.

Analysts cautioned that damage information is changing daily and that estimates don't include long-term losses, such as those from buildings, fences and machinery.

Estimates of losses from Hurricane Katrina, released last month, placed damage at $882 million.

Also Tuesday, the department lowered its loss estimates for the drought from $1.3 billion to $701 million, in corn and soybeans. Crop conditions improved substantially in August and September, said the department's chief economist, Keith Collins.

"It was a surprise to the market and a surprise to a lot of analysts, and I would say it was a surprise to a lot of farmers," Collins said.

"I've had farmers tell me that when they got on their combine and looked at the yield monitor, their eyes were popping out. They got a much better yield than they thought they would just by looking at the crop," he said.

Farm-raised fish, shrimp and shellfish took the biggest hit from Rita, with losses estimated at $80 million, the department said. The fish and shellfish industry in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas -- where the hurricane and tropical-force winds roared through -- generated cash receipts of $334 million last year.

Rita blasted virtually all the sugarcane fields in Louisiana, where growers sustained $42 million in losses to processed sugar, according to assessments from the department.

Rice growers had already harvested much of their crop in Louisiana and Texas, but enough was not yet harvested for Rita to cause losses of $24 million, the department said. The hurricane spared rice fields in Mississippi, the department said.

Tropical-force winds from Rita blew through two-thirds of Louisiana's cotton fields and 5 percent of the cotton in Texas, the department said, placing losses at $20 million. However, the estimate does not include losses in the crop's quality, which the department said is of greater concern than lost yields. Many growers are waiting for their fields to dry to survey the damage, the department said.

Soybean losses were estimated at $8 million; sorghum losses at $7 million and corn losses at $2 million, the department said.


On the Net:

Department of Agriculture: http://www.usda.gov


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