Ag News

Short-lived storms morph into long-term disasters

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Media reports during and after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, Louisiana, and further inland brought to the forefront a storm of emotions for folks across the U.S. as we gasped at the strength of nature’s fury.

On Sept. 1, CNN reported initial Hurricane Harvey losses at 60-plus deaths, 27 trillion gallons of rain including 52 inches at Houston, about $190 billion in financial losses, and 33 Texas counties declared federal disaster areas.

Beyond the tragedies in cities and suburbs assessing damage and losses in rural areas after a major storm usually takes much longer. A series of articles and photo galleries reported by Southwest Farm Press captured part of the painful sting to South Texas agriculture.

The coverage followed the hurricane’s impact on the huge beef cattle and cotton industries, including the destruction of field-ready cotton modules ready for ginning, plus already ginned bales shredded to pieces. In one photo, cotton dangled from a power line.

Disasters in rural areas are nothing new. In 1969, an agricultural journalist rode out Hurricane Camille (Category Five) while battened down in a motel room bathtub on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to capture the words and images on the storm’s devastation to agriculture. I vividly remember one photo taken of a once healthy pine tree forests – blown, twisted, and leveled into huge piles of trees resembling broken wooden toothpicks. The journalist was my father.

The reality is the long-term impact on agriculture from a major weather event typically lasts for decades and even a lifetime. California farmers know all too well about slow-motion carnage following the recent five consecutive years of severe drought.

Statistics from University of California, Davis scientists on the 2014 California drought included a 2014 statewide economic loss near $2.2 billion; the loss of 17,100 agricultural seasonal and part-time jobs; and fallowing 428,000 acres (5 percent) of irrigated cropland in the Central Valley, Central Coast, and Southern California. The Central Valley had losses near $810 million in lost crop revenue alone.

Some wonder why farmers and ranchers continue to farm given such uncontrollable situations. That’s a good question. An easy answer might be to feed and clothe the world, yet following the family’s agricultural passion and heritage for generations might sum it up better.

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