Har­vey flood­wa­ters threaten 1.2 mil­lion cows in US south­west

Business World - - AGRIBUSINESS -

A DEL­UGE of rain from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey is soak­ing Texas pas­tures, leav­ing some cat­tle stranded in flood­wa­ter in the state that leads the US in beef pro­duc­tion.

At least 25 inches (64 cen­time­ters) of rain fell at Wendt Ranches near Bay City, Texas, prompt­ing flood­wa­ters to start ris­ing quickly on Sun­day, said rancher Gene Kubecka, 61. Wa­ter was waist-deep in some ar­eas, and Kubecka used a trac­tor to drive through the washed-out area and move 600 head of cat­tle to higher ground. The area is north of Rock­port, Texas, where Har­vey made land­fall on Aug. 25.

The 54 coun­ties in the state’s dis­as­ter zone have at least 1.2 mil­lion beef cows, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics, said David An­der­son, a live­stock econ­o­mist at Texas A&M Univer­sity. It’s too early to gauge the storm’s im­pact, he said. Cat­tle fu­tures on the Chicago Mer­can­tile Ex­change rose as much as 2.6% on Mon­day, reach­ing the high­est in al­most three weeks.

“The wa­ter started ris­ing, and within about two to three hours, we went from ‘OK’ to ‘ we have to do some­thing real quick,’” Kubecka said Mon­day by phone. “We’ve never had this much rain on the ranch.”

Flood­ing is ex­pected to have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on ranch­ers in ru­ral ar­eas out­side Cor­pus Christi and Hous­ton, said Jeremy Fuchs, spokesman for the Texas and South­west­ern Cat­tle Rais­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. So far, it’s been dif­fi­cult for ranch­ers in the area to get onto the pas­tures and as­sess dam­age be­cause some roads are im­pass­able and it’s still rain­ing, he said.

Har­vey drenched Hous­ton, the fourth-largest US city, with as much as 30 inches of rain. More than 30,000 peo­ple will need shel­ter as a re­sult of the storm, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment es­ti­mate. The down­pours are fore­cast to last through the week. The storm sent rip­ples through agri­cul­ture mar­kets as cot­ton crops and cof­fee stock­piles were also threat­ened by the flood­wa­ters.

San­der­son Farms, Inc., the third- largest US chicken pro­ces­sor, shut its plant in Bryan, Texas, af­ter sev­eral roads were “im­pass­able, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to get to farms” and ship prod­uct from the fa­cil­ity, Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Mike Cock­rell said Mon­day in an e-mail. The com­pany is fill­ing or­ders from other plants. Dean Foods Co. said it closed an area fac­tory that makes fluid milk prod­ucts, juices and teas. Monthly cat­tle on feed data is­sued on Aug. 25 by the gov­ern­ment af­ter fu­tures mar­ket closed showed lower July feed­lot place­ments than an­a­lysts ex­pected, pos­si­bly giv­ing prices a boost, An­der­son of Texas A&M said.

The Texas An­i­mal Health Com­mis­sion hasn’t been able to as­sess con­di­tions yet be­cause of the rain and flood­ing, said Thomas Swaf­ford, the group’s spokesman. It’s hard to say how much of an im­pact the “cat­a­strophic flood and storm” will have on live­stock un­til crews head out as early as tonight, he said.

“A sig­nif­i­cant amount of cat­tle rais­ers have been im­pacted by this,” Fuchs of the Texas in­dus­try group said Mon­day by phone from Austin. “We sus­pect there are go­ing to be lots of fences down, lots of cat­tle out and lots of work to be done to re­build the in­fra­struc­ture and re­cover those an­i­mals.”

There’s at least a foot of stand­ing wa­ter on pas­tures owned by rancher Ray Law, 53, who has 100 head of cat­tle on his farm 20 miles (32 kilo­me­ters) east of down­town Hous­ton. He has been un­able to round up the an­i­mals amid heavy rain, he said by phone on Mon­day. About half of his 70 chick­ens died af­ter a pen flooded, and “it was rain­ing so hard I couldn’t get in there to get them out,” he said. Some of his cows are stranded in the flood­wa­ter.

The pas­ture land is “high enough that they’re not go­ing to drown, but they’re not happy,” with some of the cows prob­a­bly in wa­ter up to their knees, he said. “You can’t go round them up in this kind of stuff. They just have to take care of them­selves and hope for the best.”

A RES­CUE PARTY searches a flooded neigh­bor­hood in Hous­ton.

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