Ag department says Katrina losses were nearly $900 million

Tuesday, September 20th 2005, 10:31 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Farm losses from Hurricane Katrina will approach $900 million this year, and the persistent summer drought that plagued the Midwest will cost those farmers about $1.3 billion, the Agriculture Department said Tuesday.

``Given the severity of the hurricane, the agricultural losses could have been much greater,'' Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in releasing the department's preliminary estimate.

The estimate doesn't account for long-term losses from the hurricane, such as damage to barns, equipment buildings, fences and machinery, he said. Neither does it include the cost of degraded farm fields, livestock carcass disposal, power losses and fuel shortages.

``USDA is committed to supporting producers throughout long- and short-term recovery,'' Johanns said.

The department said cotton production will drop about 4 percent this year in Alabama and Mississippi, which are important cotton states, and sugarcane production will drop about 9 percent in Louisiana, a state that would have accounted for about 1.5 percent of U.S. sugar production.

The estimate includes $30 million in losses to short-term livestock production and $3 million in milk losses to dairy producers, who lost electricity on farms and in dairy plants. About 10,000 cattle were lost, and millions of chickens were killed, the department said.

Hurricane-force winds missed major centers of crop production, and much of the rice, soybean and corn crops in affected states were harvested before Katrina made landfall, the department said. Remaining crops will cost more to harvest because they were flattened, the department said.

The department attributed much of the crop losses to lost horticultural production in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

The department compared the $900 million in lost production from Katrina to the $20 billion in overall farm cash receipts last year in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Besides losses from Hurricane Katrina, the preliminary estimates from the department said drought losses will reach $1.3 million for corn and soybean growers in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The department pointed out that corn and soybean producers have also seen prices drop because the hurricane interrupted shipping at Gulf Coast ports.