New York Farm Bureau applauds a new agricultural trade partnership designed to strengthen Puerto Rico’s economy in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which ravaged the Caribbean island last year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a multi-pronged agreement that calls for increased exchange of food and agricultural commodities between Puerto Rico and New York, co-ventures in food innovation, food security for underserved populations and food bank development, and collaboration on best practices in food and beverage safety.

The announcement followed his recent fifth visit to Puerto Rico since the hurricanes with a delegation of state university presidents, students, nonprofit and labor leaders, and elected officials to support ongoing recovery efforts.

A growing number of New York-grown apples, cabbages and onions are going to Puerto Rico, which is in turn sending watermelon, mangoes and pumpkins to the Empire State. The initiative could have a more than $1 million benefit for both economies, the governor’s office says.

“I suspect that there would be opportunities for dairy products as well,” Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman said. “It is a valued partnership between New York and Puerto Rico. We have different growing seasons and commodities, which can benefit each other and our respective consumers.

“At a time when the value of trade is a hot topic, it is important that the governor and our lawmakers are looking for new opportunities to benefit the state’s farmers,” he said. “We need expanded markets to sell what we produce and Puerto Rico offers promise for many of our farmers.”

A November 2017 Build Back Better report, calling for federal assistance for disaster recovery, says hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crop value, a $250 million economic impact. Irma struck first, in early September, followed by Maria a couple of weeks later.

In addition, the report says more than 2.2 million animals were lost and that agricultural infrastructure experienced damages in excess of $1.8 billion.

Most farms in Puerto Rico are small, making the impact even more devastating to the families that run them.

More than 1 million Puerto Ricans live in New York state.

“The people of Puerto Rico are our brothers and sisters,” said Cuomo, who is seeking re-election to a third term in November. “New York will continue to do everything in our power to help them rebuild their economy. This agricultural partnership will create opportunities for local farmers, stimulate economic growth, and help this vital sector recover, and will further strengthen the ties between Puerto Rico and the great state of New York.”

Plans call for launching a comprehensive, targeted effort to work with local farmers, the University of Puerto Rico and other partners to assess immediate needs, provide technical assistance for short-term solutions, and develop a strategic plan to bolster the agricultural industry, support food security and grow Puerto Rico’s economy.

Cuomo has directed state agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball to lead a team of experts to pursue such goals with the Albany, New York-based non-profit group SOMOS, whose mission is addressing the needs of New York state’s Hispanic population. A SOMOS 2018 Conference is scheduled for Nov. 7-11 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The trade agreement could provide a major outlet for all types of New York farms that are struggling to make ends meet in the face of stiff global competition and increased concerns about tariffs.

Caribbean Produce, Puerto Rico’s largest produce distributor, has already imported 186,200 pounds of apples from across New York including Rome, Empire, Red Delicious, Gala, Snap Dragon and McIntosh from New York Apples Sales and Hudson River Fruit.

Caribbean Produce has also imported 126,000 pounds of cabbage from Torrey Farms in Elba, Genesee County, and 84,000 pounds of onions from Minkus Family Farms in New Hampton, Orange County, with plans to import New York-grown potatoes, carrots, turnips and beets as well. In addition, the Puerto Rican firm is distributing Red Jacket Orchard juice from Geneva, Ontario County.

Likewise, New York has imported 100,000 pounds of seedless watermelons from Finca González and Soto Farms in Guánica, Puerto Rico, sold at retail in the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx. And Caribbean Produce will soon export tropical pumpkins to New York from Finca Gonzalez, as well as mangoes from Gan Eden Farm in Santa Isabel.

The latest initiative continues efforts first begun two years at an agriculture trade forum the state organized, in which business, government and agriculture leaders met to facilitate trade, expand markets, and grow the economic impact of agribusiness and agritourism in New York and Puerto Rico.

Paul Post is a freelance writer in eastern New York. He can be reached at paulpost@nycap.rr.com.