August 8, 2007 / 7:20 PM / 12 years ago

Florida losses could hit $1 billion from drought

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Drought has caused $100 million in crop damage and economic losses to Florida and the figure could rise tenfold over the next two years, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

“That figure could rise, depending on the water levels of Lake Okeechobee, up to $1 billion,” department spokesman Terry McElroy said.

Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida stores irrigation water for some 700,000 acres of agricultural land, considered by some as the most productive farm land in the world.

Summer rains have eased water-use restrictions in many urban areas but farmers around the lake are still under restrictions and face “a dire situation” that could continue into next year and beyond, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said in a statement.

Industries such as citrus, sugar and cattle might not feel the worst financial pain until 2008 and 2009, and the winter vegetable crop could also be in peril, he said.

The lake level is currently about 4 feet below its historical average for this time of year, the South Florida Water Management District said.

Florida’s dry season starts in November and many farmers are questioning whether there will be enough water available through the winter to justify planting fall crops, Bronson said.

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