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Puerto Rico's farmers face heavy losses following Hurricane Maria

The aftermath of Hurricane Maria has been devastating to Puerto Rico farmers, according to Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of agriculture. 

He reported that the area near the southern port city of Ponce, is known for plantains, bananas, papayas, coffee and citrus crops.

“All of that has been wiped out,” Flores Ortega said. “Farmers are used to loss, rain, heavy rains and flooding. But on this occasion, we had the worst natural disaster in 100 years on the island.”

Flores Ortega estimated the island lost 80% of its crops. 

All the plantations have been destroyed. Flooding covered 51,000 acres of coastal area. Cows and other livestock floated away in the swollen rivers. Irrigation systems were lost, and ornamental and hydroponic facilities were damaged.

“There’s no plant that can survive 150-mph winds,” Flores Ortega said.

Federal agencies and the island’s Department of Agriculture are looking for ways to restore Puerto Rico’s $1 billion agricultural sector, with grants and loans to help rebuild facilities and roads so farmers can go back to planting and production.

In Yabucoa, a region on the southeastern corner of the island that produces plantains, farmer Aurelio Beltran drove through acres of downed plantain trees.

Angel Morales, president of the Yabucoa farming cooperative, said most of the valley’s 3,000 to 4,000 acres of plantains were destroyed. Although farmers carry insurance, they’ll still lose money because trees cost $6 to $7 to plant, and insurance only pays $3.25 a tree, Morales said.

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