In the wake of the destruction Hurricane Irene inflicted upon the agriculture sector, currently estimated at some $20 million, the Economic Development Bank has granted an automatic three-month stay on loans held by insured farmers, agency chief Ivonne Otero said Thursday.
Through its decision, the EDB could be benefitting 572 farmers, 82 of which are under the Farm Insurance Loan Program. The remaining farmers have received financing through the EDB’s Agricultural Financing Direct Loan Program, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Otero said.
“Hurricane Irene’s incessant rains wreaked havoc on our island’s agriculture and in many cases there are farmers who have lost months of work due to this situation,” Otero said. “We can not be insensitive to this and we’re giving this three-month moratorium on payments of loans under the Farm Insurance Program so that they have the opportunity to work the land and their credit is not affected.”
Furthermore, farmers who are suffering the consequences of the atmospheric event that wiped out a significant number of crops earlier this week and are under the EDB’s Agricultural Financing Direct Loan Program must deliver to the agency their insurance inspection documents, so that their case may be reviewed, she said.
“We urge them to contact their account executive to find ways we can reach out to them in these difficult times,” she said.
The agriculture sector’s loss estimates are likely to exceed $20 million and dozens of farms in Yabucoa, Maunabo, Jayuya, Orocovis, Maricao, Adjuntas, Santa Isabel, Juana Díaz, Guánica and Aibonito. The hardest-hit crops are plantains, bananas, coffee, vegetables and ornamental plants.
“In the coming days we will have a much more complete picture of the damage, but what we’ve seen in the visits we’re conducting tells us that the losses could be much higher,” said Agronomist Juan Reyes, vice president of the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau.
Bureau members are visiting farms and supporting farmers in reviewing damages and orienting them, so they can apply for emergency assistance. Farmers who paid for insurance through the Agriculture Department’s Farm Insurance Corp. have until today to file their claims.
On a slightly positive note, Hurricane Irene affected just 10 percent of the island’s dairy operations, so milk supplies have not been compromised, Bureau officials said.