Puerto Rico farmers hit hard by Hurricane Maria

While recovery has started in the island U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, one industry could take more than a year to bounce back after being decimated by not one but two hurricanes in recent weeks.

The farming industry took a major hit from Hurricane Maria. Some are estimating that the Category 4 storm took out 89 percent of crop value on Puerto Rico, The New York Times reported.

Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture, said Maria was one of the costliest storms in the island’s agricultural history.

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Estimates of loss are as high as $780 million.

In 1998, Hurricane Georges took out 65 percent of crops. Hurricane Irma destroyed about $45 million in agriculture production.

Farmer José Rivera said that every tree on his plantain farm, 14,000 of them were down. He said that his yam and sweet pepper crops were also destroyed.

"There will be no food in Puerto Rico. There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won't be any for a year or longer," Rivera told the Times.

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Hardest hit were not only plantain crops like Rivera’s, but also banana and coffee growers, Flores Ortega said. Also destroyed were dairy barns and industrial chicken coops.

Prior to the storms, Puerto Rico imported about 85 percent of its food, The New York Times reported.

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But the places from which the island gets its food didn’t get through the hurricanes unscathed.

The Dominican Republic, Dominica and St. Martin, which all export food to Puerto Rico, were all damaged by Maria and Irma.

Félix Ortiz Delgado, a foreman on another farm, said, “I have never seen losses like these in any of my 80 years.” He was tallying the loss of the coconut trees he harvests from. Each would yield $100 a month. Ortiz Delgado said that a dozen were broken in half and all of the seedlings were blown away.

"Those palms take about 10 years to grow. I'll be dead by then," Ortiz Delgado told The New York Times.

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It isn’t only the obvious destruction that is hurting farmers.

A dairy farmer had to throw away some of what his cows produce because dairy trucks can't get to his land to collect gallons of milk. Stores are closed. Power is out. So trucks haven't been able to make their pickups, The New York Times reported.

Efrain M. Robles Menendez said, “Since Wednesday, I have thrown out 4,000 liters of milk a day.”

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But there is a glimmer of hope in the long run.

Some say that the destruction will lead Puerto Rico to modernize the industry.

The techniques used, according to Flores Ortega, were not efficient and wasted water. Federal funds will be available to rebuild and could help make it more profitable for farmers, The New York Times reported.