Hurricanes hit producers

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 13, 2004
by WLJ
By Sarah L. Swenson
WLJ Associate Editor

Florida producers are cleaning up the aftermath from both hurricane Charley and Frances and are hoping that hurricane Ivan stays at bay. It is uncertain how much devastation was caused to the beef industry, but early predictions are that 65 percent of all beef producers in the state were impacted by these two hurricanes.
The reason that a devastation total can not be calculated yet is because many producers are just now being allowed to return to their farms and ranches. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), many producers were evacuated and had to open gates for cattle to seek higher ground. Although the rains have finally stopped, cattle are still standing belly deep in water in places, and grazing is uncertain.
Also, herds have been mixed together and it will take the next couple of weeks for producers to sort their cattle, find out if any are missing, and report lost or fatal animals. Then producers will need to access the stress their animals have undergone from the weather and what effect that has had on their bottom line.
With hurricane Charley, Terence McElroy, press secretary for FDACS, said the greatest damage was on the coast. On the inlands, where most cattle are raised, there was not as much heavy rains and devastation. Some auction markets did experience damage to their facilities, but only three auction markets were forced to close because of power outages and damage.
Frances was not so kind. The sheer size and magnitude of this storm has created wreckage across the state for cattle producers. McElroy said most of the state was inundated with rain, and there is not a whole lot of high ground in central Florida. "For the most part, animals are fairing well," said McElroy. "We've heard that some ranchers have lost five or six head. Not catastrophic, but the numbers are mounting."
He also noted that the problematic situation right now is that not all the rivers, streams, or lakes have fully crested. FDACS expects the water will rise for at least another day, which could cause additional flooding and deterioration in livestock producing areas.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson spent the day Wednesday touring agriculture areas around Okeechobee to get a grasp on the damage they have experienced. Commissioner Bronson is hoping to gather information on what type of support will be needed by these producers and convey this information to lawmakers currently considering special appropriations bills that offer financial assistance to agricultural hurricane victims.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) is also coordinating relief efforts through their office. "Hurricane Frances certainly has increased the amount of rebuilding that needs to be done," said Jim McAdams, NCBA president elect. "As is usually the case when disaster strikes, cattlemen come to the help of their friends and neighbors—even when they're on the other side of the country."
NCBA policy staff is currently working on identifying the kinds of disaster relief that are available, including emergency funding to help remove the debris and rebuild fences. NCBA has been coordinating the effort with Jim Handley of the Florida Cattlemen's Association. Handley says the first need is to secure perimeter fencing to stop cattle from wandering across highways.
Another top priority is to get Florida's auction markets up and running. The hurricanes hit just as cow-calf producers were getting ready to start shipping their calves to feedlots. Since 80 percent of the feeder calves sold in Florida are exported, the hurricane will affect other states' beef production as well.
Dee Likes, executive director of the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) said, "Our state relies heavily on calves coming out of Florida to keep our industry strong and as one of the larger affiliates of NCBA, we felt like it was not only our desire but responsibility to reach out to those in our industry in a time of need."
None of Florida's auction markets were able to sell cattle last week. However, most markets hope to be up and running by Monday, September 13.
"The biggest problem seems to be flooding and getting the cattle up. A lot of the pastures are flooded and the livestock have been standing in water for a significant amount of time," said Terry Harris, supervisor of Florida's livestock market news for USDA. "One order buyer told me that he actually had calves starting to slip hair off their legs because they'd been so wet for so long."
At this time, Harris says no one really knows how stressed these cattle are or who can even get to their cattle when the markets do reopen.
In terms of actual market impact, it is uncertain what the hurricane will do to cattle prices, but auction markets expect prices to stay strong. Robert Burney with Okeechobee Livestock Market said they got power back on September 8 and are planning on having a sale Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week.
Usually they only have sales on Monday and Tuesday, however, with neighboring markets being closed, Burney said they have been adding a third sale on Wednesday to accommodate the volume. Typically Okeechobee averages 1,500 head on Monday and 2,500 on Tuesdays, of mostly feeder calves. Last week, they sold 1,898 head on Monday, 3,109 on Tuesday, and 989 on Wednesday.
For the next sale, Burney said they have already had producers calling to get lot numbers and saying they are going to do whatever they can to get their cattle out and to market. "The water and the mosquitos are getting so bad that they have to do something," said Burney. "And, if we get this next hurricane, Ivan, it will even be deeper."
Burney expects they will have moderate runs of cattle because of all the water. He noted that once other markets open back up, they will resume just a Monday and Tuesday sale.
Priefert Ranch Equipment of Mt. Pleasant, TX, donated a truckload of panels and gates to the Florida Cattlemen for use through December. NCBA Region II—NC, GA, SC, TN, AL, and LA—sent a load of fencing material, including 3,000 metal T-posts and 520 rolls of barbed wire. In addition, KLA; Louisiana Beef Industry Council; District #9 Da-Ko-Tah Cattlewomen, Wildrose, ND; Ohio Cattlemen's Association; Oregon Cattlemen's Association; Texas Cattle Feeders Association; and Wenger Farms, Myerstown, PA, have all made cash donations to Florida producers. — WLJ