- Shonda Novak American-Statesman Staff
1 p.m. update:
Texas Department of Agriculture Sid Miller said that, although there are no numbers available on loss of livestock, that is expected to change as flood waters recede and people are able to return to their properties and begin assessing damages.
The Texas Animal Health Commission’s (TAHC) Animal Response Operation Coordination Center has established a Hurricane Harvey Hotline at 512-719-0799 for those wishing to volunteer, donate shelter or supplies for animals, or report both live and dead animals.
For people looking to buy, sell or donate hay, call 512-463-9360.
Miller has also activated the State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund (STAR Fund) to assist farmers and ranchers affected by Harvey. Ag producers in all 54 counties declared disaster areas by Governor Greg Abbott are eligible to apply for cost-matching funds to help get operations back up and running. For more information on the STAR Fund or to donate go to the STAR Fund webpage.
In a recent update, the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association said crop losses may be as high as $150 million, but this number is likely to change as the flooding subsides and producers can get a more accurate estimate of damage.
Cotton farmers in the Upper Coastal Bend were some of the hardest-hit ag producers, with hundreds of cotton modules blown apart by gale-force winds and many more lying wet in fields and at gin yards. Thirteen of the counties declared disaster areas are cotton-producing areas.
Texas rice producers had already harvested around 75 percent of this year’s crops, but storage bins may have undergone extensive wind and water damage, leading to more crop losses. Wheat, soybean and corn exports all ground to a halt late last week as Texas ports prepared for the oncoming hurricane. Texas is responsible for exporting almost one-fourth of the nation’s wheat and a significant portion of U.S. corn and soybeans.
The ravaging floodwaters brought by Hurricane Harvey could take a significant toll on Texas’ cattle industry, although it’s too soon to estimate the economic impact on the nation’s top beef-producing state, experts say.
There are at least 1.2 million beef cows in the 54 counties that have been declared disaster areas, said David Anderson, a professor and livestock economist at Texas A&M University.
“While 1.2 million is about 27 percent of Texas’ beef cow herd, those 54 counties would rank as the eighth-largest beef cow state (beef producing area) if on their own,” Anderson said.
He said it’s too early to tell how many cattle might be lost due to Harvey. Most of the state’s feedlots and packing plants in Texas are in the Panhandle, and thus are not directly affected by the storm, Anderson noted. However, one major packing plant, Sam Kane’s, is in Corpus Christi and sources cattle from around South and Central Texas, he said.
Jeremy Fuchs, spokesman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said a significant number of cattle ranchers in rural areas, including outside Corpus Christi and Houston, have been impacted by flooding from Harvey, which has inundated pastures and left animals stranded.
Impassable roads and continued rain has made it difficult for ranchers and response teams to safely assess the impacts to cattle herds, the association said.
“My hope is that in the coming days and hopefully by end of this week, we’ll have a little better picture of what they need in terms of relief and assistance,” Fuchs said. “We suspect there are going to be lots of fences, down, lots of cattle out, and lots of work to be done to rebuild the infrastructure and recover those animals.”
Anderson said significant cattle losses will create a variety of problems for the industry.
“The short term is on the ranchers themselves who have to deal with losses among their calves that they were going to sell this year, or the stresses on those animals that survive,” Anderson said. “Longer term is the loss of those cows that won’t be around to have calves next year and the loss of the calves that would have become beef in the future… The financial effects on the ranchers hit by the storm are huge.”
Fuchs and Anderson said it is too soon to predict the impact on beef prices.
“Typically, these kinds of weather events don’t have a large effect on market prices because they are too small given the size of our nation’s total market, although this one is a lot bigger than most,” Anderson said.
Fuchs said Harvey isn’t the first rodeo for the state’s ranchers, who have weathered many storms before, and he is optimistic about an eventual return to normalcy.
“Texas ranchers are a resilient bunch,” Fuchs said. “There’s been a great outpouring of support from cattle raisers elsewhere in Texas and across the country, and we are confident that they will be able to recover and continue their operations and continue providing the beef that supplies our nation.”
Additional material from Bloomberg News Service.