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US flags crop damage from Hurricane Harvey - as Hurricane Irma looms
By Mike Verdin - Published 06/09/2017

More details emerged of the damage to US crops from Hurricane Harvey, even as the next hurricane, Irma, approaches the south of the country, with latest forecasts seeing it bringing 150mph winds to Florida.

In terms of standing crop, Harvey wrought most damage to Louisiana, data from the US Department of Agriculture showed, showing a 14-point drop to 49% over the week to Sunday in the proportion of the state's cotton rated "good" or "excellent".

The drop came amid reports of "tidal surge" and heavy rains brought by Harvey, which landed 13 inches on parts of Louisiana last week, leaving 66% of the state with "surplus" topsoil moisture levels, double the level a week before.

Nonetheless, one USDA scout reported that "the timing of rain event and overcast weather is what caused problems for crops, especially soybeans that were ready for harvest".

The proportion of Louisiana soybeans rated good or excellent also dropped 14 points week on week, to 56%.

For cotton, the hurricane struck as the Louisiana crop was at the height of opening bolls, a weather-sensitive crop phase, with the proportion of crop in this phase doubling to 70% over last week.

By contrast, in Oklahoma, where only 8% of cotton is opening bolls, strong rains brought by Harvey proved a benefit, fostering a 10-point jump to 97% in the proportion of crop seen as in good or excellent condition.

'Significant damage'

However, most focus is on Texas, which is typically responsible for roughly half US output of the fibre - and where the proportion of cotton rated good or excellent rose by 1 point week on week, to 59%.

USDA scouts noted that while Upper Coast and South East areas of the state received up to 30 inches of rains, other parts "received little to no rain".

Still, the USDA highlighted that "significant damage was reported to cotton unharvested prior to the passing of Hurricane Harvey in the Upper Coast and South Central Texas."

Furthermore, "bollworms and aphids damaged some cotton fields in areas of the Southern High Plains" in north western Texas.

'Threat to cotton crops'

The comments come amid continued efforts to assess the damage to Texas cotton from Harvey, with Texas A&M University pegging losses at "something under 500,000 bales", which would represent a small proportion of a US harvest that had been forecast above 20m bales, but cautioning over quality damage to other crop too.

They also come as Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the US, with the latest forecast from the US National Hurricane Center showing it making landfall in central Florida late next weekend, bringing winds of up to 150mph.

The forecast path remains uncertain, with predictions earlier on Wednesday putting Irma west of Florida.

However, even if landfall "doesn't quite happen, the heavy rainfall that will follow the storm is a threat to cotton crops in the US South East, the nation's second biggest [cotton-] producing region", said Tobin Gorey at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

'Continue to get more dicey'

Traders at Ecom said that the biggest "threat lies in Irma entering the Gulf of Mexico and heading up towards the Delta, Mid-South cotton states", hurting many areas not hit by Harvey.

At Georgia-based McCleskey Cotton, Ron Lee flagged the boost that storm fears had put into prices, saying that "things just continue to get more dicey for the cotton bears, as after a three-day weekend, Hurricane Irma is putting a weather premium into our market unlike one I've seen in many years.

"Markets don't like uncertainty, and with a storm packing winds of more than 180mph [offshore] and one that is larger right now than the entire state of Texas barrelling toward the eastern coast of the US, you can't get a higher degree of uncertainty at the moment."

Still, cotton futures for December, having soared the exchange maximum of 3.00 cents a pound in New York in the last session, eased back 0.03 cents to 74.85 cents a pound in early deals on Wednesday.

With Florida the top US orange juice producing state, futures in this commodity have risen too, jumping 6.3% in the last session to close at 145.00 cent a pound in New York for November delivery.

That represented the contract's highest close in nearly four months, and the first finish of 2017 above its 100-day moving average.

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