A storm carried heavy rainfall, lethal winds and drastic temperature swings into Uruguay last weekend. In the course of the three days that it lasted, the storm managed to take the lives of more than 30,000 of the country’s sheep.
The storm, which was particularly damaging for the country’s north and northwest regions, where much of Uruguay’s sheep and ewes are raised, was unlike anything most of the country’s northern residents had ever experienced. “I have never seen anything like it, and the people who have spent years working in the countryside haven’t either—not even their parents or grandparents have told them stories like these,” Walter Galliazzi, a farmer in Salto in the country’s northwest told local newspaper El País (Spanish link.) The combination of near-freezing temperatures, some eight inches of daily rainfall and powerful winds was too much for the sheep, many of which had recently been shaven.
Uruguay is particularly dependent on its sheep population. Its world-renowned wool industry exports over $2 billion in wool and woolen goods a year. “This a huge loss for farmers, but also for the country because it will have an overall impact on the country’s flock (7.8 million head), and in wool and lamb exports” the head of Uruguay’s Rural Association Ruben Echevarría told Latin American news outlet Mercopress.
Uruguay has a sheep population approaching eight million, but the 30,000 losses have been especially dramatic because they were concentrated in Salto, Tacuarembó, and other towns in the country’s north and northwest regions. Some farmers lost as much at 70% of their flock, according to local news outlet El Acontecer (Spanish link.) “We know some people are not reporting the dead animals so the number could be higher,” Echevvarría told Mercopress. Two people were reportedly killed in the storm, and some 1,500 others have been displaced.
Even before the latest Uruguay storm reduced the supply, prices for wool were near historic highs (Spanish link) thanks to increased demand in Europe, China and the US.