Hurricane Harvey’s impact on Texas cattle and cotton

In recent weeks, numerous parts of the world have faced dangerous flooding due to excessive rainfall: Texas, Northern Ireland and South Asia, most notably.

While flooding is devastating in innumerable ways, the impact on agriculture is huge, with effects that shoot far along the food supply chain.

In the case of Texas, the biggest producer of beef and cotton in the U.S., rain from the slow-moving Hurricane Harvey (now tropical storm Harvey) has brought challenges that may last for weeks and months to come.

Struggles for cattle industry

Around 1.2 million beef cows reside in the hurricane’s disaster zone, reports Southwest FarmPress. Thanks to a deluge that has a top reading of 51.8 inches of rain near Houston, transportation is difficult or impossible. Many cattle, trucks and vehicles are stranded due to impassable roads. Infrastructure damages are a problem too, as fences and barns damaged have led to cattle escaping.

Cattle caught in standing water face the risk of encountering snakes, alligators, unsafe pollutants in the water, and underwater objects that could injure them. They may also develop foot rot from the constant moisture, and suffer from a lack of access to feed and drinkable water. Beef producers are likely to face special feed challenges as the floodwaters subside.

Some ranchers have tried to relocate livestock north of the storm’s disaster zone, while others have been simply trying to find higher ground for their animals, navigating them through urban streets where waters are shallow enough.

Other animals, especially poultry, have been reported to have drowned in many cases when floodwater rose too hard and too fast for them to be rescued.

Crop problems

When the storm struck, Texas was enjoying a bumper cotton crop, much of which has now been destroyed. Southwest FarmPress reports that according to agronomist Josh McGinty, only 25% of cotton modules at one yard had survived the onslaught, and that many gins would be out of commission for the rest of the year.

“It looks like a bomb went off,” he said, noting that cotton ripped from modules was “knee deep on the ground” and also tangled up in powerlines 50 feet high.

It’s too early to say exactly what the damages will be, but currently an estimated 300,000 bales have been lost so far, a hard loss for individual farmers who were expecting record yields.

Other crops being stored in or transported through Texas for export, such as corn, wheat and soy, have been damaged.

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