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Mother Nature strikes again

Sep 1, 2017

Pete Crow

It’s been a wild summer of weather events for the livestock industry. On one side of the country you have extreme, dry weather and wildfires forcing cattlemen to liquidate herds, and on the other side they have been hit with a massive hurricane and have more water than they have ever seen. These cattlemen have not been able to survey the damage to their cow herds. Hurricane Harvey is being called an 800-year flood. Houston is the fourth largest city in the country with over 3 million people living in the region. I’ve never experienced a hurricane but I’m quite sure I never want to.

Those coastal cities between New Orleans and Corpus Christi took a beating last week and it will take years to recover. I can’t even imagine 52 inches of rain in four days. Folks have said that it will take months for all that water to drain out of southeast Texas. Our prayers certainly go out to those folks who lost everything. It’s been said that only 20 percent of homeowners had flood insurance.

AccuWeather, a forecasting firm, estimates that Hurricane Harvey has caused $190 billion in property damage, or a full 1 percent of GDP, which is more than the combined cost of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined. They are also expecting areas of Houston to be uninhabitable for weeks or even months because of water damage, mold and disease-ridden water.

Harvey has brought a big blow to agriculture. Nearly every crop grown in the area has been destroyed. Farmers in the region were in the middle of their cotton harvest and were expecting one of the best crops ever. But when the storm hit, those farmers couldn’t get their cotton pickers going fast enough, running 24 hours a day. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service said that farmers left $150 million of cotton in the field that cannot be salvaged. And just think about all the corn and hay that has been destroyed!

So far it sounds like the cattle handled it well. It’s estimated that 1.2 million head of cattle are in the 54-county disaster area. I’m sure that there will be some cattle lost, but the conversations I’ve had with folks indicate that cattlemen were able to get cattle to high ground and truck them north. They had good warning on this massive weather event and took this category 4 storm seriously.

One of the most pressing concerns for cattlemen with stranded cattle was venomous snakes, alligators and fire ants. With all that water, you never know where risks will show up. There will certainly be lots of cattle standing in water for a while, which brings on disease and animal health issues; mosquitos will have free reign for a while.

The Southwest Texas Cattle Raisers Association was reaching out to their members, asking about their situations, and the comments I read didn’t indicate any serious cattle losses. There were more old barns and sheds and homes damaged or torn down. It appears that folks got the word early and moved their cattle. But it is a little too early to know for sure.

One thing for sure: These big weather events are part of the livestock producing industry—flooding in the South, fire in the West and winter storms in the Midwest challenge livestock producers every day. The farmers and ranchers in South Texas will get over the floods like they always do.

I spoke with a couple friends in the area, who expressed amazement at how well organized the relief efforts have been. Folks are donating just about everything—including time—to get the community out of this mess. And if you watch the news everyone in the country has been sending help in some form or fashion. This is a people-helping-people thing; not like Hurricane Katrina when people were expecting the government to do everything.

I would have to imagine that some of those folks in the Katrina storm were relocated to Houston and now they may be going back. It won’t take farm country long to get this storm behind them. It will take the major cities much longer to get over this disaster.

It’s also expected that Hurricane Harvey will put a dent in beef consumption over the Labor Day weekend. The only beef packer in the area is Sam Kane in Corpus Christi, which was forced to stop production. Again, say a prayer for those folks affected by this epic weather event. — PETE CROW

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