McLarens CAT Bulletin | Agricultural Impact of La Soufriere Volcano Eruptions

25 May 2021

Over the last month the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been assessing the impact of the recent eruptions from La Soufriere Volcano in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The smoke and thick ash, which has covered the surrounding areas over the past few weeks, may have repercussions on the local agricultural industry for some time.

In a press release, the Ministry stated they are gathering information from farmers about damage to their land or stocks related to the recent volcanic eruptions. The land assessments have taken place over the same period that the Government has also been providing help to livestock farmers, with water tanks arriving at evacuation centres. Whilst the dangers to livestock may be obvious after a volcanic eruption, what are the damages to land crops which may take longer to be seen?

Many Variables to Consider in Crop Damage

In our last bulletin, we discussed how, although ash sounds harmless, ‘volcanic ash’ can cause many issues. This is due to it being tiny pieces of glass, minerals and rock which can be acidic and contain a range of elements which can damage where they land. The acidic content of ash can damage land and crops where it is even just a thin layer of ash, so it is not just the areas of heavy deposit which may be affected.

The resilience of a type of crop, and the elements and treatments used in the soils, will also determine the level of damage to a particular crop in a particular area.  Many crops are most susceptible to damage during their early growth and flowering – the ash covers small crops, which damages their young, delicate stems and prevents sunlight from reaching them. Once again, the wind conditions and rainfall levels can also contribute to the level of damage.

In areas with significant ash on the ground, it is unlikely crops and vegetation will live, and if they do, they may be unsuitable for use. Deep ploughing is usually recommend in these areas, along with consideration of the new soil composition to confirm what can be sown to production or planted to improve the soil quality.

Given the number of variables at play, knowing how and when the crops and vegetation in any area covered in ash will be safe to farm, requires investigation and management. Many of these issues can be limited by early mitigation steps, particularly as weather conditions can cause further damage by moving ash deposits. Our McLarens CAT Response team in the Caribbean continues to closely monitor the situation, with the expertise of Trent Gillette, US Agriculture Director, and Stephen Smout, UK & Ireland Head of Agriculture. We are ready to assist and mobilize loss adjusters in the region.

Jorge Diaz
Head of the Caribbean