“This is water of biblical proportions. I’m talking about unimaginable flooding,” says Texas producer Dennis DeLaughter.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Texas growers are reeling as the agriculture industry begins to assess damage levels. All things considered, DeLaughter is a fortunate farmer, despite being surrounded by water and battered by 100-mph winds.
Southwest of Houston in Edna, DeLaughter grows seed rice at four farming locations, but he had nothing in the field when Harvey made landfall. With no second crop to follow cutting, his harvest was finished and the grain safely stored. Most growers use commercial storage in DeLaughter’s area -- concrete tanks with hopper bottoms off the ground and safe from standing water.
He says three of his farms are relatively intact, but the fourth (and largest) is an inaccessible question mark. Blocked by a rising river to the west and a swollen creek to the east, he’ll have to wait at least several days to find out how the farm fared.
When Harvey struck, DeLaughter was 50 miles due east from the storm’s center. On the hurricane’s subsequent backup, the eye went over his headquarters. “The storm moved slightly west and slammed the Rockport area. As the crow flies, we’re 60 to 70 miles from Rockport, where the storm spent most of its fury.”
DeLaughter, a highly respected producer and investment adviser, says estimates over damage totals are impossible without proper assessment: “People can’t even get to farms to assess their situations. The amount of water is hard to describe. Multiply what you’ve seen before by 100 and imagine it spilled all over the countryside.”
DeLaughter served on the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee (ATAC) during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations and he currently serves as an ATAC member under the Trump administration. He is a licensed floor trader with the Chicago Board of Trade and a former chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. At 65 years old, DeLaughter says nothing in his life or career compares with the destruction of Harvey.
In the early 1990s, DeLaughter lived in East Bernard and recalls a particularly terrible flood: “I had a friend in the rice industry and the Bernard River flooded his house with 6’ of water. I helped him float his furniture right out the front door. I thought that was the worst I’d ever seen, but today as a result of Harvey, the Bernard River is cresting a full 4’ higher and it’ll be 10’ in his house.”
“We’ll get a better handle on the damage as the days go by, but I’ve never seen a hurricane back up like this,” DeLaughter adds. “I’ve never dreamed of a hurricane like this.”