It will take years to restore East Texas after Hurricane Harvey slammed ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25. According to one estimate, Hurricane Harvey could end up being the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Analysts with Risk Management Solutions estimate economic losses could be $70 billion to $90 billion. This is a conservative estimate compared with AccuWeather, which sees costs running as high as $190 billion, or the combined dollar amounts of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
While Harvey carved a path through heavily populated areas (more than 2.3 million people live in Houston alone), 54 counties that more than 1.2 million beef cows call home were also declared disaster areas.
“That’s 27% of the state’s cowherd,” says David Anderson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension livestock economist in College Station. Because the number is from January’s USDA–National Agricultural Statistics Service inventory report, “that’s a conservative estimate of beef cow numbers because 14 of those counties only have cattle inventory estimates.”
Ranchers worked to herd cattle away from rising flood waters, even moving herds through towns and city streets to reach higher ground. Reports to the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association say losses ranged from minimal flooding and damage from high winds, to extreme flooding from more than 40" of rain, down fences, forage supply losses, structural building damages and lost livestock that couldn’t be moved before the storm hit.
Most of the area’s corn and grain sorghum crops had already been harvested in the weeks prior to Harvey’s arrival. The grain was either stored or sold at nearby port markets, reported Wesley Spurlock, National Corn Growers Association president, during an “AgriTalk” interview.
Cotton farmers, however, were not able to completely finish harvest, with up to half still in the field. “That cotton crop was a record—they had a great crop,” Spurlock said.
Many Texas cotton gins were expecting to break their own respective records for ginning bales this year too. Instead, some gins won’t likely operate for the rest of the season. As farmers and livestock producers continue the painstaking clean-up process, the final impact of Harvey on Texas agriculture might not be known for months.
As of press time, Hurricane Irma was threatening to wreak havoc on the southeast. In Florida alone, $1.2 billion worth of production is at risk.