Irma could touch U.S. food prices

Published: Sep. 6, 2017 at 10:38 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- As Texas and Louisiana continue recovery after Hurricane Harvey, Irma could pose an even greater threat to the Southeastern states and the crops they produce.

Irma, which hit the Eastern Caribbean Wednesday with winds of up to 185 miles per hour, is currently the strongest Atlantic storm recorded by the National Hurricane Center. It's too early to tell whether the category 5 hurricane will make landfall in the continental U.S., but many forecasts show it heading towards Florida this weekend.

That could mean impact on growers in the Sunshine State, the nation's second-biggest produce producer after California. Bloomberg estimates Irma threatens 1.2 billion worth of crops in Florida including oranges, sugarcane and a number of vegetables.

UW-Madison Animal Sciences professor Dan Schaefer mentions another Florida export you might be hearing less about: meat.

"There are a lot of calves being weaned off beef cows in Florida at this time of the year, and they would be moving into the center part of the country, so transportation of those calves would be affected, I think," Schaefer said. Milk production, he adds, would also be affected, but likely only locally or regionally.

"I don't expect interruptions to Florida milk production to really affect us up north."

Following the numerous projections that show Irma possibly moving into Georgia and the Carolinas, Schaefer explained the industries that could be affected in that scenario -- touching on Georgia's role as a major poultry producer, but adding that there is roughly "a week’s worth of poultry supply in storage around the country," so he doesn’t believe there would be a major shortage. Pork prices could see a bigger impact if Irma heads as far as North Carolina.

"Then there would be effects on pork production, because North Carolina’s a very important state for pork," Schaefer said.

If Irma continued further north than North Carolina, he says individual crops would be less of a concern than the effect on major hub cities.

"Transportation from major population centers would be the bigger concern if Irma kept moving north," he says.

The good news, Schaefer says, is that any price spikes will be brief in his opinion -- no more than a couple of weeks tops, he says -- and he thinks any noticeable national shortage is unlikely.

"Weather events occurring in one area of the country can affect price, but they don’t necessarily cut off that supply of a food item," said Schaefer. "That’s a very nice thing about the wealth we have in food production in this country."

Copyright: WMTV 2017