Hurricane Irene hurts corn, tobacco, other crops in mid-Atlantic and New England, but food prices unlikely to rise, professor says; some New York, Vermont dairy farmers forced to dump milk as road and bridge damage stops deliveries

LOS ANGELES , September 1, 2011 () – Farmers are taking stock of crop damages ranging from possibly catastrophic to “could have been worse” after Hurricane Irene battered the mid-Atlantic coast and interior New England, The Christian Science Monitor reported Aug. 30.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited heavily affected areas of eastern North Carolina Aug. 30, where some growers have reported total losses in their tobacco fields.

Some dairy farmers in Vermont and New York have had to dump milk because broken bridges and roads prevented tanker trucks from making their rounds. Farm-stand and feed corn also took a heavy hit in the region.

The storm came at a bad time for crops, and some areaswill see total crop losses, according to North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

Final tallies for crop losses are  weeks away, but if Irene has any impact on food prices, analysts say it will likely be far less than the effects of the extreme drought plaguing areas of the South and West, including Texas, which has seen crop losses reach a record US$5.2 billion this year.

Corn crop damage may have been extensive in the mid-Atlantic and New England, but most of corn and other food commodities for U.S. consumption comes from California and the Midwest, which has mostly avoided bad weather this year.

Some reports claim 90% of North Carolina’s leaf tobacco crop could be lost or damaged, though the full extent of damage to tobacco and soybean crops is unknown. Most blueberry crops were harvested prior to the storm, but continued soggy conditions could damage sensitive blueberry bushes and affect next year’s crop.

Irene could impact regional food prices including milk depending on the impact on the dairy industry in Vermont and New York, according to New York dairy farmer Dean Norton.

The way most food is processed in the U.S. will allow only a small part of drought- and storm-related price increases to spur higher prices in grocery stores, Iowa State’s Professor Harl said.

The primary source of this article is The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, Massachusetts, on Aug. 30, 2011.

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