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FEMA awards $1.6M for new equipment in Puerto Rico agricultural facilities

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocated nearly $670,000 to replace equipment at Puerto Rico Agriculture Department Veterinary and Agrological Laboratory, due to damage suffered after Hurricane María hit the island in 2017. 

The facility performs all tests for and certification of animals exported and imported into the island to ensure that they are free of disease. The federal funds are part of a larger obligation from FEMA to the Agriculture Department, which has already received more than $18 million for permanent work projects. 

“These laboratories are unique in Puerto Rico due to the services they offer to the agricultural community on the island and abroad,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José Baquero said. “The monitoring and tests performed here have a direct effect on the control of diseases in the food chain and animal population in Puerto Rico.” 

The veterinary laboratory handles animal disease control and various bacteriological, chemical, immunological and pathological analysis tests. The agrological laboratory inspects and tests plants, soil and water; studies various crop diseases; controls pests and pesticides; and operates machinery for testing and certifying food, concentrated food for livestock and fertilizer tests, among others. 

Agriculture Department Secretary Ramón González-Beiró noted that “in terms of safety, agriculture and for consumers, these replacements are extremely significant, starting with the tests carried out on animals, tests carried out on food and on fertilizers.”

“We’re making sure that farmers are getting what it actually says on the label and that we’re not putting something in the ground that is against the law,” González-Beiró said.

The agency’s funds are earmarked to replace a fire alarm as well as hematology equipment and testing instruments for viral diseases, among other electrical and technical equipment. Meanwhile, the Marketing Warehouse in Ciales is already under reconstruction after obtaining a $582,000 allocation from FEMA. 

This is one of the centers where the Agriculture Department buys products from farmers — such as plantains, bananas, pumpkins, lettuce and tomatoes — to sell to hospitals and school cafeterias. The structure, which resumed operations in August 2022, employs about 10 people. 

The work for this facility involves painting and replacement of lighting, fan extractors, water tanks and other infrastructure elements, such as doors, windows and air conditioning. 

Mitigation measures for this project will reinforce the equipment to make it more resistant to strong winds. 

Meanwhile, Finca Monterey in Dorado will benefit from about $360,500 for improvements to its facilities, mainly for the roof, air conditioners and water pumps. 

This is one of the few places on the island that produce pumpkin, plantain and bean seeds, among others, to sell to farmers. The farm employs 12 people and has a garage, several warehouses and a machine shop. 

“Through the reconstruction of the Agriculture Department’s facilities around Puerto Rico, we support the development of various industries related to food production and farming,” said the executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), Manuel Laboy-Rivera. “The acquisition of this new equipment will strengthen the operations of this laboratory where crucial analyses that contribute to the food safety of our people are performed. At COR3, we are committed to continue assisting them in this important process until the resilient transformation of their infrastructure is completed.”

To date, FEMA has awarded nearly $30.5 billion for about 10,700 Public Assistance projects aimed at rebuilding a more resilient Puerto Rico ahead of future weather events.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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