Planners in the Texas Panhandle — a major region for cattle feedlots, hog production and the dairy industry — have completed an 18-month $1.4 million program to help minimize and survive natural or man-made disasters such as a major disease outbreak.
The Amarillo Globe-News reported that an important theme during the Texas Panhandle planning process was the threat of diseases — such as foot-and-mouth disease — arriving through natural means or possibly by terrorism. The viral disease afflicts animals with divided hooves and can spread quickly, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. It was eradicated in the United States in 1929 but the USDA makes extensive efforts to prevent it reappearing.
At any given time in the Panhandle region 2.5 million cattle are in feedlots, 90 percent of the state's hogs are being raised and dairies producing 1 million gallons of milk a year just for a cheese factory in Dalhart.
"The loss of large-scale feeding operations, from any cause, will result in catastrophic economic losses," said Walt Kelley, project manager of the Regional Resiliency Assessment Program.
The planning effort involved business leaders, county judges and other emergency management offices such as sheriffs' departments. They were advised by major livestock producer associations, academics, and state and federal agencies involved in agriculture and emergency operations.
They studied scenarios for disease outbreaks such as a situation that forced livestock trucking to be stopped, or required officials to deal with thousands of cattle corpses. They also discussed how to contain any outbreak and keep businesses either operating or ready to operate as soon as possible.
Texas Cattle Feeders Association president Ross Wilson said the planning helps cattle feeders in natural disasters and in response to animal disease.
Long-term benefits will come from talks among the groups involved in the planning, said John Kiehl, regional services director for the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, said.
"If we can build on what has been started with this ... by taking the conversation into other states, we can make serious strides in protecting an industry that is critically important to the entire nation," he said.