Hurricane Irene May Damage Cotton in Second-Largest U.S. Grower

Hurricane Irene threatens to damage about a quarter of the cotton areas in Georgia, the second-largest grower in the U.S., and a large part of South Carolina, when it makes landfall, a weather forecaster said.

Irene was forecast to reach the eastern Florida coast and hit South Carolina on Aug. 27, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It may affect Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, causing about $2.2 billion in losses, according to an initial estimate by Kinetic Analysis Corp., a risk modeling firm in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“There is a potential for about 25 percent of the Georgia crop to be impacted,” curbing cotton yields, said Michael Ferrari, director for climate modeling at Falls Church, Virginia-based CSC. “In South Carolina, it may be a little bit higher,” he said.

Losses to the cotton crop in the U.S., the world’s largest shipper, may tighten supply, helping stem a 51 percent slump in prices from a record in March. Cotton for December delivery was little changed at $1.065 a pound in New York at 10:32 a.m. Singapore time.

Farmers in Georgia were forecast by the USDA on Aug. 11 to boost output by 11 percent to 2.5 million bales, from a year ago. South Carolina was estimated to increase production to 440,000 bales, from 376,000 bales a year ago, the USDA said.

“They’ll get more moisture than what they’ll need,” Ferrari, 42, who has been tracking weather trends and risks to investments for 15 years, said in a phone interview today from Washington. “It will have an impact on cotton.” Ferrari correctly predicted in February that drought will persist in China, hurting the nation’s wheat crops.

Moisture Needed

The hurricane may also bring much-needed moisture in other drought-stricken cotton areas in the southeastern portion of the U.S., Ferrari said.

“It’s going to start off with everybody reacting negatively, but in the long run, it will be a good system to help growers in that area because they really need this moisture,” Ferrari said. The impact on yields “depends on how the growers are managing their fields,” he said.

Irene, with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour, intensified to a category 2 storm, and may further strengthen, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a update released at 8:30 p.m. New York time.

CSC is a technology company that serves as contractor to NASA, the U.S. Department of Interior and other U.S. government agencies, according to Ferrari, a former vice president at Weather Trends International Inc.

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