Cattle industry waiting to assess storm’s impact
Rural ranchers struggle with flooded pastures, stranded animals.
The ravaging floodwaters brought by Hurricane Harvey could take a significant toll on Texas’ cattle industry, although it’s too soon to estimate the economic impact on the nation’s top beef-producing state, experts say.
There are at least 1.2 million beef cows in the 54 counties that have been declared disaster areas, said David Anderson, a professor and livestock economist at Texas A&M University.
“While 1.2 million is about 27 percent of Texas’ beef cow herd, those 54 counties would rank as the eighth-largest beef cow state (beef producing area) if on their own,” Anderson said.
He said it’s too early to tell how many cattle might be lost due to Harvey. Most of the state’s feedlots and packing plants in Texas are in the Panhandle, and thus are not directly affected by the storm, Anderson noted.
However, one major packing plant, Sam Kane’s, is in Corpus Christi and sources cattle from around South and Central Texas, he said.
Jeremy Fuchs, spokesman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said a significant number of cattle ranchers in rural areas, including outside Corpus Christi and Houston, have been affected by flooding from Harvey, which has inundated pastures and left animals stranded.
Impassable roads and continued rain have made it difficult for ranchers and response teams to safely assess the impacts to cattle herds, the association said.
“My hope is that in the coming days and hopefully by end of this week, we’ll have a little better picture of what they need in terms of relief and assistance,” Fuchs said. “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.”
Anderson said significant cattle losses will create a variety of problems for the industry.
“The short term is on the ranchers themselves who have to deal with losses among their calves that they were going to sell this year, or the stresses on those animals that survive,” Anderson said. “Longer term is the loss of those cows that won’t be around to have calves next year and the loss of the calves that would have become beef in the future . ... The financial effects on the ranchers hit by the storm are huge.”
Fuchs and Anderson said it is too soon to predict the impact on beef prices.
“Typically, these kinds of weather events don’t have a large effect on market prices because they are too small given the size of our nation’s total market, although this one is a lot bigger than most,” Anderson said.
Fuchs said Harvey isn’t the first rodeo for the state’s ranchers, who have weathered many storms, and he is optimistic about an eventual return to normalcy.
“Texas ranchers are a resilient bunch,” Fuchs said. “There’s been a great outpouring of support from cattle raisers elsewhere in Texas and across the country, and we are confident that they will be able to recover and continue their operations and continue providing the beef that supplies our nation.”
Cattle are stranded in a flooded pasture Monday along Highway 71 in La Grange. Impassable roads and continued rain have hampered ranchers and response teams.