September 13, 2005 in Business

Cotton, sugar cane yields up despite Katrina

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Despite Hurricane Katrina’s damage to Mississippi’s cotton fields and Louisiana’s sugar cane crop, cotton production nationwide still should approach records and sugar cane production is expected to be above last year’s, the Agriculture Department said Monday.

But the hurricane’s effects on U.S. agriculture rippled far beyond the southern Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana farm fields, although it’s too early to determine the exact toll, the department said.

In its monthly crop report, the Agriculture Department raised its forecasts for cotton, rice, soybeans and corn over last month’s estimates. And though farmers are expected to grow more sugar cane than last year, the department lowered its production forecast from last month.

Harvest of corn and soybeans, the main export crops, won’t be fully under way for a couple of weeks.

U.S. agriculture depends heavily on foreign sales of crops, many of which are exported down the Mississippi River through Gulf Coast waterways and ports that were ravaged by Katrina.

“When the Midwest harvest gets into full swing and whether they’ll be able to handle grain shipments then, that’s going to be the true test,” said Terry Francl, economist for the Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest general farm organization.

The Mississippi River and the key agricultural port, the Port of New Orleans, were operating Monday at limited capacity.

“I don’t want to give you the wrong impression – it’s not like it was before the storm,” said Chris Bonura, spokesman for the port. “But we’re starting to see the first steps of getting back to commercial cargo.”

Katrina’s 140 mph winds battered cotton in Mississippi, which is expected to harvest 10,000 fewer acres of cotton this year. But most cotton fields are in western parts of the state and escaped the hurricane’s full brunt.

• Wheat production should be 2.167 billion bushels, unchanged from last month’s estimate and up from last year’s 2.158 billion bushels, the Agriculture Department said.

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