How could this year’s hurricane season affect agriculture?
Written by Rene Pastor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The worst hurricane season since 2005 could hit hard the main agricultural export region of the United States and hurt various crops growing around the Atlantic basin and Caribbean Sea.
The Port of New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Port of South Louisiana, some 30 miles upstream from the city, are the main agricultural export ports of the U.S.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday issued its first forecast for the hurricane season which begins on Tuesday, projecting 14 to 23 named storms, with 8 to 14 developing into hurricanes, 3 to 7 of which could become majors with winds whipping at more than 110 miles per hour.
Grain exporters estimate these southern ports handle up to 70 percent of U.S. grain exports.
Barges use the Mississippi River to haul grain to the Port of South Louisiana where massive grain elevators store them in bins.
From there, ships coming up from New Orleans load the grain for customers spanning from the Middle East to Japan.
New Orleans is also the leading metals port for the London Metal Exchange, with about two dozen warehouses in the area, according to port officials.
Data compiled by the port showed that imports of copper anodes and ingots into its warehouses in the first nine months of 2009 climbed to 162,500 tonnes. That was up 673.11 percent over the same period in 2008.
Zinc ingots and slabs rose to 119,526 tonnes in the first nine months of 2009, up 542.3 percent against the same period in 2008, the port figures showed.
Aside from New Orleans, the port of Houston is also a key exporter of wheat. And there is a major grain elevator in nearby Beaufort, Texas.
The Gulf region is also home to three of the four main coffee ports in the U.S. They would be New Orleans, Houston and the port of Miami. The other one is New York City.
The Folgers coffee processing plant in New Orleans is the biggest in the country and was forced to shut down when Katrina pounded and flooded the city five years ago. Folgers is owned by J.M. Smucker Company.
Around the region, hurricanes can inflict a lot of damage on coffee and sugar crops in Mexico and the Central American countries, industry officials said.
Mexico is a major sugar and coffee grower along with Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
A storm could also slam into Florida, the leading citrus growing state in the U.S. Three hurricanes ravaged citrus farms in Florida in 2004 and then Hurricane Wilma hit the region in October 2005, badly damaging citrus output.
Indeed, Florida’s citrus has been badly damaged by storms and disease. Before 2004, production averaged well over 200 million (90-lb) boxes. In 2009/10, however, the government estimated the state’s citrus output at 131.6 million boxes.
(Editing by John Picinich)