Puerto Rico struggles to recover after hurricane razed crops

Oct 18, 2022, 1:38 PM | Updated: 2:25 pm

YABUCOA, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona destroyed $159 million worth of crops in Puerto Rico when it hit a month ago, decimating fields of plantains, bananas and other crops, the island’s agriculture minister said Tuesday.

The U.S. territory’s fragile agricultural sector is barely starting to recover from the Category 1 storm, which hit the island’s southwest region on Sept. 18 and unleashed what officials described as “historic” flooding and dozens of landslides. It also destroyed more than 90% of crops across Puerto Rico.

“A lot of us underestimated the phenomenon,” said Manuel Cidre, secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce. “It was much more damaging to agriculture in the south than many people thought.”

Heavy rains smothered hundreds of acres’ worth of crops and fierce winds flattened young banana and plantain trees, which bend easily starting at a constant wind of 20 mph given the heavy bounty they produce, said agronomist Peter Vivoni, president of the Puerto Rican Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Also hard hit were vegetable and coffee plantations, said Agriculture Minister Ramón González.

On a recent weekday morning in the southeastern town of Yabucoa, farmer Anastacio Silva Gómez surveyed the damage that Fiona caused, recalling how it turned land that he had fertilized a week before the storm hit into a river. He lost 20,000 young plantain trees, noting that he sells bunches at $10 each. He also lost tractors, fertilizers, pesticides and other supplies.

“It was too much rain,” he said quietly. “The rain wreaked havoc.”

Silva and others like him also had been preparing land to plant more crops, but now are unable to do so given the severe financial losses, which is of great concern to many farmers.

“How are we going to lift up the agriculture sector if there are no seeds?” Vivoni said, adding that officials should launch a seed inventory in Puerto Rico.

Similar damage was reported in the neighboring southern coastal town of Maunabo, home to some 120 small farmers who grow crops including plantains, bananas, melons and sweet peppers.

Luis Monte Benjamín was growing bountiful crops on five acres of land before Fiona hit.

“Do you know what it’s like to see it on the floor after you’ve spent a year cultivating it?” he said. “The melons are what I mourn the most. What melons!”

For now, he said he plans to make up for some of the losses by planting a bit of passion fruit, which he said is cheaper to grow.

The storm was the latest challenge to hit Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector, which has struggled to find workers to pick crops and prompted government officials in recent years to bring workers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Just days after Fiona hit, Puerto Rico’s agriculture minister announced a more than $2 million aid package for farmers, with thousands applying for help. Crews also have been inspecting farms in recent weeks, with González announcing Tuesday that banana and plantain policy payments will be issued this week.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


This photo provided by Budweiser shows a scene from Budweiser's 2023 Super Bowl NFL football ad. Br...
Associated Press

For Super Bowl ads this year, crypto is out, booze is in

NEW YORK (AP) — The hottest ticket in town for advertisers is officially sold out. Fox said Monday that in-game ads for Super Bowl LVII have all been sold. The big game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles takes place on Sunday. The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage, with advertisers jockeying […]
19 hours ago
FILE -- A man walks out of a vaccination bus at a mobile vaccine clinic in Midtown Manhattan, Dec. ...
Associated Press

NYC ending COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City, which once had the nation’s strictest workplace vaccination rules for COVID-19, is ending one of its last such mandates, saying it will no longer require the shots for municipal employees including police officers, firefighters and teachers. The vaccine mandate, which led to the firing of hundreds of city […]
19 hours ago
British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt gestures before speaking to the media at Victoria Place Shopping Cen...
Associated Press

Britcoin? UK gets closer to launching a digital currency

LONDON (AP) — Britcoin is moving closer to reality. U.K. authorities on Monday said British businesses and consumers are likely to need a digital version of the pound, formally asking for public comment on the idea of introducing a central bank digital currency. Britain, home to the world’s second-biggest financial center, is trailing former colonies […]
19 hours ago
FILE - A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 201...
Associated Press

Google hopes ‘Bard’ will outsmart ChatGPT, Microsoft in AI

Google is girding for a battle of wits in the field of artificial intelligence with “Bard,” a conversational service apparently aimed at countering the popularity of the ChatGPT tool backed by Microsoft. Bard initially will be available exclusively to a group of “trusted testers” before being widely released later this year, according to a Monday […]
19 hours ago
Lizzo performs a medley at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (...
Associated Press

Grammys rebound from COVID years, reach 12.4 million viewers

NEW YORK (AP) — An estimated 12.4 million people tuned in to watch stars Harry Styles, Lizzo and Bad Bunny perform at the Grammy Awards, along with a tribute to 50 years of rap history. That’s up from the pandemic-affected broadcasts of the last two years, the Nielsen company said on Monday. Live viewership was […]
19 hours ago
FILE - A walkway leading into the school in Wales, Alaska, where a 24-year-old woman and her 1-year...
Associated Press

Polar bear in fatal Alaska attack was in poor health

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A polar bear that killed a young mother and her baby last month in western Alaska was likely an older animal in poor physical condition, but tests came back negative for pathogens that affect the brain and cause aggressive behavior, officials said. Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, a state wildlife veterinarian, collected and […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Puerto Rico struggles to recover after hurricane razed crops