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Puerto Rico - Tropical Storm Isaias left up to $47.5 million in crop losses

Puerto Rico’s agricultural production suffered losses amounting to $47.5 million as a result of the strong winds and heavy rains brought on by Tropical Storm Isaias’ passing near the island last week, Puerto Rico Agricultural Secretary Carlos Flores Ortega said on Monday.

The plantain crop was the hardest hit by the storm, suffering 69 percent of the losses, Flores said, noting that other crops affected were bananas, which represented 20 percent of losses, and ornamental plants, which represented 3 percent of losses. Losses in the production of papayas, watermelons, vegetables, citrus, yautias and ñames amounted to 1 percent each, he said.

The Agricultural Department region that was most affected by the tropical storm was Lares, which sustained crop losses of $13.4 million, the Agriculture chief said. It was followed by Utuado, with $12 million in crop losses; Caguas, with $10.8 million in losses; Naranjito, with $5 million in losses; Ponce, with $3.4 million in losses; Arecibo, with $1.4 million in losses; San Germán with $1.1 million in losses; and Mayagüez, with $677,000 in losses.

“All farmers who suffered damages due to the passage of the storm should follow the established procedures to make a claim or apply to the Regular Incentives Program to obtain agricultural machinery, fertilizer or seeds and reestablish agricultural production,” Flores said in a press release. “It’s important to respond quickly to the harmed farmers and provide them with the resources so that they may recover from the atmospheric event.”

The Agriculture chief said that despite concerns over a shortage of local production, particularly of plantains, he stressed that the importation of such products will not be allowed.

“We expect that in two months we will have the crops ready to continue with their consumption,” he said.

For his part, Rey Rodríguez Nieves, acting director of the Agricultural Statistics Division, highlighted efforts by agronomists to evaluate the effects of the storm to execute a mitigation plan.

“We are working with a scientific and methodic process to determine where the aid will be directed,” Rodríguez said. “Field agronomists visited their farmers, establishing safety protocols in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue last week to include more local produce in approved funding to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus and the blow to local farmers caused by Tropical Storm Isaias.

In a letter to Perdue dated Friday González stated her desire for the federal agency to include local produce currently not listed in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which recently expanded its coverage to include pineapples, guavas, and coconuts, among others. She said that the non-inclusion of plantains, bananas, coffee, sweet peppers, yam, yucca, taro, and Malanga “remains a source of frustration among growers in Puerto Rico.”

The CFAP provides financial assistance to farmers who have been affected by the pandemic. Among the damages sustained and considered by the program is the price reduction of 5 percent or more due to the loss of demand, additional costs for interruptions in marketing and sales, costs for disposing of surplus crops, among others.

CFAP provides $16 billion in direct assistance to affected farmers, and $3 billion for food distribution to the general public through food banks and other nonprofit organizations. Farmers who produce traditional and non-traditional crops, milk producers, ranchers, and farmers who supply local distribution chains and have noticed price reductions related to the pandemic are eligible.

Farmers eligible for the program include those who have been unable to supply family markets, restaurants, and schools due to Covid-19 emergency measures, including curfews, lockdowns and social distancing rules. The program also covers farmers who have had to dispose of their crops because they could not sell them due to closings or slow sales during the pandemic.

Compensation to farmers under the program are limited to $250,000 per person or per legal entity, with limited exceptions.

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