November 12, 2009 / 7:05 PM / 10 years ago

Mississippi sees "catastrophic" crop losses

MIAMI (Reuters) - Rain from Tropical Storm Ida further slowed the cotton, soybean and sweet potato harvest in Mississippi, where crop losses were devastating even before the storm hit, a state agriculture official said on Thursday.

“We’re seeing catastrophic losses,” Andy Prosser, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, said in a phone interview.

Ida swept in from the Gulf of Mexico into neighboring Alabama on Tuesday. Mississippi was spared a direct hit but still got an unwelcome soaking.

“We got a few counties in east Mississippi that did get a lot of rain. Of course any more rain at this point is not good in terms of crop harvest,” Prosser said.

At the start of the month, state economists estimated Mississippi’s crop losses at $485 million. The southern U.S. state expected to lose two-thirds of its sweet potato crop, half its cotton and 44 percent of its soybeans.

Spring rains delayed planting, while record rainfall in September and October cut yields and quality, the agriculture department said.

Mississippi cotton growers traditionally harvest 95 percent of their crop by November 1 but this year the month started with only 14 percent harvested.

“A lot of the cotton producers, before this last rain, were trying to get their crop out of the field at any cost but the quality is still not very good,” Prosser said.

Texas is the top cotton producing U.S. state, while Georgia and Mississippi alternate for second place.

Mississippi’s sweet potatoes, a tradition at Thanksgiving holiday meals, were heavily damaged.

About 25 percent of Mississippi’s soybeans are still in the field, Prosser said.

“In terms of yield, those soybeans have been average to good yields, however the quality of the beans has turned out to be very bad,” he said.

Peanuts have fared better but the quality has been “decent to OK at best,” he said.

Reporting by Jane Sutton, editing by Jim Loney and Jim Marshall

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