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Katrina: Counting the Damage to Agriculture

I’m Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

New Orleans has always been a busy center for ships and trains. The city is close to the mouth of the longest river system in North America. Normally, thousands of barges travel down the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and other rivers to New Orleans. They carry grain and other crops for export. These flat boats can hold as many as fifteen railroad cars or sixty trucks. More than sixty percent of American corn and soybean exports go through New Orleans.

All that activity stopped when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August twenty-ninth. Traffic on the lower Mississippi River came to a halt. It is slowly returning to normal. And the port of New Orleans set a goal to restart limited operations for trade ships by September fourteenth.

The American Farm Bureau estimated that the storm caused at least one thousand million dollars in damage to crops and farm animals. Most of the losses are in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. However, the Farm Bureau says higher transportation and energy costs could add another thousand million to the price of Katrina.

Last week, the Agriculture Department offered emergency aid for producers affected by the storm. The more than one hundred seventy million dollars in assistance is mostly in the form of loans. A spokesman says more aid will come later.

The Farm Bureau says final estimates of the damage could take weeks or longer. But it said strong harvests of soybeans, corn and cotton in other states should limit any national effects of Katrina. It said the biggest effect might be on the price of sugar from sugar cane because of a limited supply.

At the same time, prices fell for corn and soybeans on the Chicago Board of Trade. But market experts say that could change as the port of New Orleans returns to normal shipping levels.

The storm hit shortly before committees in Congress were expected to consider proposed cuts in agricultural aid. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said he now expects a delay.

The Agriculture Department says farm earnings in the United States last year reached a record eighty-two and one-half thousand million dollars. But many farmers could earn less this year. That is because of high fuel prices, as well as high temperatures and dry conditions in the central states.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at I'm Barbara Klein.