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In Harvey's Wake

Harvey's winds and rain disrupt Texas agriculture

Hurricane Harvey did more than transform cityscape by turning highways into rivers; it also upended life for farmers and ranchers across dozens of counties that Gov. Greg Abbott declared disaster zones.

Cotton crop ruined by Harvey in Refugio County, about 6 miles south of Refugio on US 77, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.

In Harvey's Wake

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Like many of his neighbors, Robby Reed had high hopes for his cotton fields in 2017.

“It was going to be my best cotton crop year ever,” said Reed, who raises a variety of crops on some 2,500 acres outside of Bay City, about 80 miles southwest of Houston. “Everybody was making big cotton crops.”

Then along came Harvey.

The hurricane-turned-tropical storm devastated a wide swath along Texas' Coastal Bend. Flooding from the relentless rains sent five feet of water into Reed’s two-story house and swamped his only partially harvested cotton fields.

“Everything else is just, you know, kind of wasted,” the 39-year-old said this week. 

Harvey did more than transform cityscape by turning highways into rivers; it also upended life for farmers and ranchers across dozens of counties that Gov. Greg Abbott declared disaster zones. The powerful winds and rains destroyed crops, displaced livestock and disrupted trade.

Texas typically exports nearly one-fourth of the country’s wheat and a major portion of its corn and soybeans, according to the state Department of Agriculture, but a shutdown of ports ahead of Harvey halted export.

At least 1.2 million beef cows graze in in 54 counties Abbott had added to his disaster list as of Tuesday, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. State and industry officials did not immediately have data on how many were lost, but news reports and social media have circulated images of wandering cattle and dramatic rescues of the animals from floodwaters. 

“There have been a lot of wonderful stories going around on social media of people banding together to help save one another’s livestock,” Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in statement. “I want to send a great big thank you to these folks for doing things the Texas way, which is to be a great neighbor and help those in need.”

Harvey also affected cropland. Texas rice producers had already harvested about 75 percent of the year’s rice crop, according to the Agriculture Department, but wind and water likely damaged storage bins, leading to more crop losses.

Harvey hit cotton farmers like Reed particularly hard, destroying their prospects of a banner year. While the region’s crops — corn, for instance, were out of the ground before the storm hit, cotton was another story.

“A lot of cotton didn’t get harvested,” said Gene Hall, a spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau. “We know that they were racing the clock trying to beat landfall ... I think anything left on the stalk, you got to consider that a total loss.”

In Matagorda County, for instance, just 70 percent of cotton had been harvested, while only 35 percent was out of the ground in Wharton County, Hall said. 

What’s more, high-speed winds ripped apart cotton modules — large blocks of unprocessed cotton — leaving them strewn about fields and gin yards.

Reed said the floodwaters had kept him from even being able to survey the damage to some of his land near Matagorda Bay, and that he planned to soon take a ride in his buddy’s helicopter to take a look.

Though Reed said his family would ultimately “be alright” after rebuilding and replanting, they wouldn’t forget this setback.

"There’s been some storms and hurricanes, but nothing like this that I can remember,” he said. “I don’t even remember the name of the storms and hurricanes and the year it was, but I’m pretty sure I’ll remember Harvey in 2017."

How to help

Those wanting to assist Harvey-struck farmers and ranchers have a few options, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

They can donate to the State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund, which is managed by the Agriculture Department but only accepts private donations. Find more details here.

The Agriculture Department also accepts donations of hay and animal feed. Find more information here, or call 512-463-9360. 

Those wanting to volunteer; report live or dead animals; or donate shelter or supplies for animal can call the Texas Animal Health Commission’s Animal Response Operation Coordination Center’s Hurricane Harvey hotline: 512-719-0799.

Disclosure: The Texas Farm Bureau and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.


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