Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated $200 million in agricultural losses as it flooded farm fields and washed cattle from ranches, according to a Texas A&M University analysis released Friday. Worst hit was the state’s small-but-thriving cotton belt along the Upper Gulf Coast, which sustained an estimated $100 million in losses. Livestock losses, estimated at $93 million, were a close second.
The analysis is the first official attempt to calculate Harvey’s damage to the state’s agriculture industry.
“Many South Texas or coastal area cotton farmers were on the verge of harvesting one of the best crops ever in Texas, while some ranchers were unable to save some cattle from insurmountable flood waters,” said Doug Steele, director of Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, in a statement.
Livestock and cotton are the state’s two most profitable agricultural industries, accounting for $10.5 billion and $2.2 billion in cash receipts, respectively, each year.
Since Harvey made landfall August 25, stories have abounded of drowned cattle, decimated cotton fields and ravaged farm infrastructure. In Chambers County, two ranching brothers’ land was momentarily transformed into a waterworld. But Harvey’s agricultural losses are a shadow of those caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008 (estimated at $960 million) and Hurricane Irma, which leveled Florida’s citrus groves and other crop fields in September to the tune of $2.3 billion.
Harvey’s losses were tempered by bountiful cotton harvests in Nueces and San Patricio counties, located just southwest of Rockport, where the storm made landfall. In contrast to producers farther up the coast, cotton farmers there had mostly finished harvesting the crop when Harvey bore down on the region. One San Patricio grower told me in August that he had “the best year ever, as far as yield goes.”
The estimated $93 million livestock loss includes damaged fencing that must be repaired and the loss of winter hay ruined by floodwaters or carried away when water inundated ranches, according to the A&M analysis. The report did not include estimated number of dead livestock, though that number could be in the tens of thousands, as experts predicted.
“Livestock losses could have been much worse” had the university and other state organizations not set up feeding stations near affected areas that provided displaced animals $1.3 million in donated hay, Steele said.
Texas’ rice and soybean industries took a combined wallop of $8 million, and fisheries reported damage to vessels and gear, along with lost fishing days. An estimate of fishery losses won’t be available until after oyster season is wrapped up in late spring.