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Hurricane Harvey clobbers infrastructure, agricultureHurricane Harvey clobbers infrastructure, agriculture

Storm system to cause significant disruptions to commerce.

Krissa Welshans 1

August 28, 2017

6 Min Read
Hurricane Harvey clobbers infrastructure, agriculture
U.S. Coast Guard

Hurricane Harvey’s downpours will continue over Texas and Louisiana and slowly drift northward through the end of August, exacerbating the unprecedented flooding disaster that continues to unfold, AccuWeather reported Monday. Rescue efforts continue as more damage is expected, but pictures and video footage coming out of the region showed the magnitude of flooding and destruction.

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported Aug. 28 that Harvey has brought more than 20 in. of rain to portions of southeastern Texas since last Thursday night.

“The forward motion with Harvey has stalled. Due to this slow motion, another 15 to 25 in. of rainfall is expected through Thursday. Storm totals in some locations may approach 50 in. This is producing devastating flooding,” NWS said.

The flood threat is also spreading farther east into Louisiana, with additional rainfall amounts of 15-25 in. expected in southwestern Louisiana, 5-15 in. in south-central Louisiana and 5-10 in. in southeastern Louisiana, NWS reported.

The additional rainfall will likely push levees and drainage systems past their limits, AccuWeather said, adding that water may eventually need to be released from reservoirs, which would further affect the region.

“This is a devastating flooding event, the likes of which we have not seen in at least the last 12 years, since the Hurricane Katrina disaster,” AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rossio said.

Communities are expected to be flooded for weeks to perhaps months, and power will remain out for several weeks until crews can safely repair lines. Additionally, AccuWeather said the magnitude of rainfall will result in long-duration catastrophic flooding as well as major travel and commerce disruptions.

"Shipments in and out of the Texas coastal region may be delayed for weeks, primarily due to record flooding but also, in places, due to extensive wind damage," according to AccuWeather senior vice president and chief innovation executive Mike Smith.

"Railroad tracks and highways may have to be rebuilt in places," he added.

Prior to Harvey making landfall, Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, explained the impact the storm could have on transporting commodities.

“Grain handlers who export from and service the Mississippi Gulf region are taking Hurricane Harvey very seriously,” he said. “Obviously, heavy rain will delay the ability to load ocean vessels and unload barges. Heavy winds and storm surges, if they occur, could damage the export terminals.”

For U.S. agricultural exports, Steenhoek pointed out that the Texas Gulf handles 24% of wheat exports, 3% of corn exports and 2% of soybean exports.

From a soybean and corn logistics perspective, he said the larger concern is the consequences as Harvey extends farther east across the 230-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, La., to the Gulf of Mexico. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, this area accounts for 60% of soybean exports, 59% of corn exports and 14% of wheat exports.

As of Monday, Steenhoek told Feedstuffs that grain exports along the Texas Gulf have been suspended. He said a considerable amount of rail service has also been suspended in the area, and there is a lot of concern about washed-out tracks and bridge integrity.

“I'm waiting to hear back from grain shippers along the lower Mississippi River regarding the current situation there,” he added.

Planalytics said Harvey is the first Category 4 hurricane to make U.S. landfall since Charley in 2004, which had an impact of more than $15 billion.

“Harvey is poised to have the same -- if not larger -- economic impacts and is likely to be a top 10 (if not top 5) storm in these terms, but we won't know for sure until it's over,” Planalytics said.

Planalytics' initial estimate on lost sales in the consumer/retail sector alone is $1 billion.

In addition, more than 20% of all U.S. refineries are in the Gulf Coast region, and many of them have been closed or shut down.

“This can impact production of hundreds of thousands of crude oil production per day. Reduced production can result in an increase to gas prices in the coming days/weeks,” Planalytics said.

Impact on agriculture

Texas Farm Bureau president Russell Boening said in a statement that farmers and ranchers began their preparations prior to Harvey’s arrival, working around the clock to harvest crops and move their own and neighbors' livestock and equipment to escape the storm’s reach.

“Some crops remain in the field, though, and it's too early to estimate the amount of crops that have been lost to the storm,” he said.  

Jason Ott, county agent in Nueces County, Texas, told Feedstuffs sister publication Southwest Farm Press that most of the crops, including cotton, had already been harvested.

“We're lucky, in that respect,” he said. “We are also lucky that most of our cotton was harvested using picker strippers, and these large round bales they produce were designed to protect cotton from extreme weather."

While Ott reported that most of the bales had been moved to area gins, pictures surfaced on social media over the weekend showing cotton bales strewn about by the wind or sitting in flooded fields.

National Cotton Council representative Dwight Jackson told Southwest Farm Press that most of the concern was with cotton fields located in the upper Texas coastal region.

"They are about 50% through the harvesting process,” he said, adding that due to spring rains, farmers were behind schedule in their growing season.

Farmers were harvesting ahead of the storm as fast as strippers could roll through the fields, Jackson said. Significant losses could develop if forecasters are right about the volume and duration of heavy rains, he added.

In addition to cotton, the region affected by the storm is also home to over a million cattle, Ott and Jackson noted. 

"Producers have been moving cattle to higher ground, where possible, in preparation of the storm. It may be necessary to toss out hay to encourage herds to reach better grounds to avoid rising water and high winds, if possible," Jackson said.

Dr. Andy Vestal, Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension specialist in emergency management at College Station, Texas, said reports from members of livestock industry organizations, such as the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Assn., indicated that many cattle were moved from the region prior to Harvey’s arrival.

Still, he said they expect that "many more cattle and other types of livestock will not be evacuated in time and will be displaced by the storm. Those animals will need to be located and transported to these animal supply points for food, water and shelter.”

The 54 Texas counties declared a disaster area due to Hurricane Harvey contain more than 1.2 million beef cows, according to a USDA inventory report.

“That's 27% of the state’s cow herd,” said Dr. David Anderson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service livestock economist in College Station. “That’s a conservative estimate of beef cow numbers, because 14 of those counties only have cattle inventory estimates.”

Anderson noted that since it is late August, a lot of calves in the affected areas are either close to ready or ready to be marketed. The disaster area also includes a large number of livestock auction markets and Sam Kane meat processing.

While numerous rescue and recovery efforts are underway, Vestal said AgriLife Extension will collaborate with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) to see if it will be necessary to set up animal supply points for larger animals -- such as cattle, horses, pigs, goats and sheep -- and where to do so. Members of the agency’s Animal Response Team will work with TAHC to establish locations where animals can get shelter and obtain fresh hay, feed and water, he said.

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