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Cyclone Debbie could cost up to $1b, will drive food prices up across Australia

The worst may be over but the repercussions of Cyclone Debbie may be felt for some time.

The weather system has pummelled northern Queensland and now the tail of it is ripping through the south-east.

The heavy rains and category four winds that blasted the northern part of the state have turned south, with almost 500mm of rain falling in the Gold Coast within the past day.

In the same 24-hour period, Brisbane received 226 mm which is more than twice the usual rainfall expected for the region in March.

The trail of destruction left by the cyclone isn’t good news for farmers and consumers.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told ABC News that while it was early days, he expects the impact will be felt by Australia consumers, adding:

I think you’re going to see in the coming weeks there will be a shortage and in some cases, not in all, but in some cases retailers may have to look overseas to buy products. Unfortunately, prices will rise at the supermarket and that’s going to affect everyone across (Australia).

This sentiment was echoed by National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar who said that it is too early to confirm the extent of the damage.

Crops commonly grown in North Queensland include tropical fruits, sugarcane, capsicum, tomato, eggplant, pumpkin, cucumber, beans and corn.

Burdekin, Prosperine and Mackay are three sugar cane-growing regions that have been smashed by Cyclone Debbie.

Mahar said that prior to the cyclone hitting, there were predictions that $1 billion worth of damage could be caused.

ABC News reports that last year these regions harvested 17.5 million tonnes of sugar cane, amounting to half our national crop and with a value of $850 million.

Many farmers are still unable to access their farms, making it difficult to accurately assess the damage.

In a statement from the Queensland Government, Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said that while anecdotal information is emerging, it is hard to contact representative within the affected areas.

He highlighted the damage to sugar cane growing areas and winter crops such as tomatoes and capsicum, adding,

Over coming days staff from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and industry organisations will be on the ground to assess damage and collect the data that will inform decisions to activate financial assistance packages.

Meanwhile, Mr Zimmerman told ABC News that the most important thing is for consumers to support farmers by continuing to buy Australian fruit and vegetables so that they can rebuild their businesses.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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