Australia: Cyclone Debbie ag damages easily in "hundreds of millions of dollars"

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Australia: Cyclone Debbie ag damages easily in

The cyclone battered sugarcane fields and winter vegetable production, while mango orchards could take "years to recover".

"Contact with farmers continues to be difficult as many properties remain isolated by flood waters and communication channels via landline or mobile phone are inconsistent," Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) president Stuart Armitage said in a release.

The agricultural sector representative's comments reflect the painful process of assessing the initial impact of severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie, and he noted the threat to farmers from localized and extensive flooding was far from over.

"The immediately affected region has felt the full brunt of a category 4 cyclone," he said.

"Although it is early days, the region is worth over $1 billion to Queensland’s agricultural production value so it would be fair to assume that the damage will be at least hundreds of millions of dollars."

"As the system moves inland and southward the expected high rainfall will most likely result in flooding in regions that were not initially impacted by the cyclone."

At the time of writing, Ex-Cyclone Debbie's eye was over the state capital Brisbane and the system itself had already led to widespread flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales, with warnings issued for coastal catchments between Gladstone (QLD) and Bellingen (NSW).  

QFF project manager Ross Henry told Fairfax Media growers in the Bowen area, described by mayor Andrew Willcox as looking like a "war zone", produced AUD$425 million worth of food every year. The region is critical for the country's supply of winter vegetables, especially tomatoes and capsicums (bell peppers).

Cherry Emerick of the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association told Fairfax Media there was likely to be damages to infrastructure, including packing sheds, as well as crops.

She added growers would hope for wind to dry out fields so they could source a second crop of plants from nurseries and put them in the ground in time for the picking season, the story reported. 

In terms of fruit crops, Australian Mango Industry Association (AMIA) chief executive Robert Gray told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) of "concerning reports" of significant orchard damages from growers in Bowen and Proserpine.

He said packing sheds and cold storage facilities had also been flooded in the area, which is part of the Bowen-Burdekin region that accounts for one million of the country's eight million trays of mangoes produced each year, the story reported.

Gray told the ABC around half the production in the region had been significantly damaged.

"Branches have been broken, whole trees ripped out of the ground, and that's the infrastructure that drives the mango operation," he was quoted as saying.

Thankfully this season's harvest is finished, however the infrastructural and orchard damages mean operations could take "many, many years to get back to full production", the story reported. 

"This is going to be a slow process of rebuilding. It's not like vegetable crops … tree crops take a much longer time to recover," Gray was quoted as saying. 

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told the (ABC) crop damages would likely spark price rises.

"I think you're going to see in the coming weeks there will be a shortage and in some cases, not in all, but in some cases retailers may have to look overseas to buy products," Zimmerman was quoted as saying.

"Unfortunately prices will rise at the supermarket and that's going to affect everyone across (Australia)."

The ABC reported Federal MP George Christensen sugar crop losses could be up to 15% due to lodged and broken cane. This is significant given the area produced AUD$850 million worth of sugar last year.





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