Farmers and Ranchers Still Battling Back After Hurricane Harvey

Feb 2, 2018  | 6 min  | Ep4324

According to the National Cotton Council, the cost of production quite often falls below returns.

The market has struggled to remain profitable for producers. Even with an increase in the price paid at the point of sale Mother Nature put a major hold on South Texas profits last year. John Torpy has more in our Cover Story. John Torpy can be reached at torpy@IPTV.org

 

Chris Nieman, Farmer: “We, we, we really wouldn't worry about it. We knew we were going to get some rain. And as it started inching closer and closer. And we, we realized like the day before - we better, we better leave farming and then get to our house and start buckling, start putting boards on Windows and stuff.

Richard Niemann - Farmer, Woodsboro, Texas: “ And then it finally started turning and inched it's way up. It just took for hours and hours and hours and hours with 90 to 100 plus mile an hour winds.

The 2017 hurricane season brought round after round of structural and economic heartache to the Gulf Coast states. Three hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, caused an estimated $265 billion dollars in damage from the Caribbean to the Atlantic Coast, making last year’s hat trick of hurricanes the most expensive in U.S. history.

Of all of last year’s storms, Harvey gained the most notoriety. It ended a 12 year Texas drought by delivering an unprecedented 50 inches of rain over a five days. While epic flooding submerged the city of Houston, farmers and ranchers further south watched, helpless, as crop losses piled up.

David Wyatt, General Manager, Bayside Richardson CO-OP Gin: It was as bad as I went through Hurricane Celia in 70 and it took the roof off the house and we were in it. So I've see a bad hurricane before and but this was every bit as bad. We did not realize what we would come back to.”

Sid Miller, Texas Agricultural Commissioner:” We had a little over $200 million in agricultural damage. About half of that was cotton, the other half was livestock.”

Hurricane Harvey made landfall right in the middle of the home to 1.2 million head of cattle, one quarter of the Lone Star State’s herd. According to Texas A&M extension economists, livestock losses climbed to over $90 million dollars.

At the Woodsboro Farmers Cooperative, lifelong south Texas farmers gather at what is affectionately referred to as “the table of knowledge” to share thoughts about how life and work have changed since of Hurricane Harvey.

Roxann Wiginton, General Manager, Woodsboro Farmers’ Cooperative: “We have two bins caved in, we have grain stuck in a third. We lost two of our outbuildings…”

All the damage brought by Harvey hinders the CO-OP’s ability to serve their member farmers, many of whom logged record harvests in 2017. 

Roxann Wiginton, General Manager, Woodsboro Farmers Cooperative, “We saw six to seven thousand pound Milo down here that we've never seen before.”

Another record setting harvest blessed the fabric of many south Texas lives. The cotton harvest was the largest on record, with growers reporting three to four bale cotton per run. The 2017 crop was setting up to help economic wounds dealt to farmers through years of low prices or a low yields. Instead, Hurricane Harvey poured salt in those deep wounds.

Richard Niemann - Farmer, Woodsboro, Texas:” And the bad thing was, this was an exceptionally good year. This year would have really boosted us back and put us back where we needed to be. You know what I mean. We've been having some struggles the last few years getting by, you know in and this would have really got us back on top where we want to be.

 

Sid Miller, Texas Agricultural Commissioner: “They were finally going to make some money. Most of, a lot of that cotton was harvested, it was in the bale or the modules. A lot of it was sitting at the gin, and they still lost. It got underwater in the field and of course it ruined a lot of the module sitting at the gin. The tarps blew off in the cotton blew away.”

 

At the Bayside Richardson CO-OP Gin just outside Bonnieview, Texas, workers steadily rebuild. The facility suffered just over $1 million dollars in damages. The value of the cotton lost exceeded $5 million dollars.

David Wyatt, General Manager, Bayside Richardson CO-OP Gin: “We lost all the supporting equipment outside. The overhead seedhouse, the overhead burhouse. Warehouse, dust collectors. Things, even if I could get the gin running, I didn't have anywhere to go with the seed or anywhere to go with the trash that we were moving out of the cotton.”

 

And Harvey’s timing looked like it might add insult to injury. The cotton crop was already at the gin, and many producers were worried they might miss out on the financial help provided by their crop insurance.

Sid Miller, Texas Agricultural Commissioner:” Normally, crop insurance doesn't cover it if you got the crop harvested. So at Sunny Perdue came down, Chairman Conway came down. we we did the tour so we we working through that and we think we got it worked out where crop insurance is going to pick up those losses at the farmers where they didn't get paid for the crop.”

 

As cotton growers continue to rebuild their operations, red tape and the insurance claims process are adding to obstacles to a quick return to the field.

David Wyatt, General Manager, Bayside Richardson CO-OP Gin: “normally this time of year they've already had their cotton ginned, they received their checks for their cotton, they've went and paid the bank off. They're working there a new operating loan for the year. They're not looking at getting any proceeds from the insurance company on this cotton until March or April of this coming year.”

 

While federal assistance moves at what some farmers think is the same slow crawl as Hurricane Harvey had when it made landfall last summer, officials at the state and local levels are moving at a more rapid pace.

Sid Miller, Texas Agricultural Commissioner: “We have a Star Fund to help farmers with things that crop insurance or homeowners insurance doesn't cover. So we'll come in and pay half their fencing costs if they will give us receipts. So we we going through that. People been very generous. Texas is pretty resilient. We bounce back pretty fast. We don't wait for the government to come bail us out.”

For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy

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