While Hurricane Harvey had no effect in West Texas, it wreaked havoc in Texas’ second-largest growing area, the coastal bend from south of Corpus Christi to south of Houston.
A Texas Tech professor estimated that agricultural industries in Texas and Florida lost about $500 million due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently announced an $81 billion disaster aid package for natural disaster assistance. The two hurricanes caused more than $250 billion in combined damages.
Darren Hudson, the Larry Combest Endowed Chair for Agricultural Competitiveness and a professor in the department of agricultural and applied economics at Tech, estimated that the two hurricanes caused roughly $500 million in agricultural losses in Texas and Florida, mostly due to property destruction and livestock and crop loss.
“The biggest impact in the short run is going to be the cotton quality degradation because of the rainfall and the flooding that occurred on cotton that was in the field, as well as those shipment delays,” Hudson said.
In Texas, Hurricane Harvey had an enormous effect on the cotton industry, destroying gins, cotton in the field and even cotton that had already been harvested. Hudson said Irma had a pretty significant impact on the citrus industry in Florida, destroying one-third to one-half of the orange crop.
Loss of infrastructure, such as damaged or lost cotton gins and road disrepair, will have a longer term impact on the agricultural industry along the coast. Despite the enormous amount of damage caused by the hurricane, Hudson said there are ways the industries can bounce back.
“Obviously, farmers have equity in their farms, and they are probably going to have to use some of that equity to recover,” Hudson said, “Hopefully, a lot of this will be covered by either the disaster assistance or by insurance coming off the crop.”
Insurance payouts should occur quickly, Hudson said, but assistance from the disaster relief bill will take longer.
Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers, said there was no hurricane impact on West Texas cotton farmers and gins. But he said farmers in the Texas coastal region harvest cotton earlier than West Texas farmers, and much of the cotton was already in modules out in the fields, where they were damaged by hurricane rain.
“Certainly at harvest time, you don’t need a lot of rain,” Verett said.
With many gins in the area also damaged or destroyed, Verett said it is not feasible to ship that cotton to gins in West Texas for processing.
“You can’t haul cotton that far,” he said.
Meanwhile in West Texas, Verett said the cotton crop is going to be a very good overall crop, coming in at either the second- or third-largest crop ever. But he said late-September rains didn’t allow the crop to mature out as fully as farmers would have liked, so the quality of the crop isn’t as good as producers would have hoped for.
“From a quantity perspective, it was a very good crop,” Verett said.
Hudson said a lesson can be learned from these hurricanes and, hopefully, there will be innovations in the way some of these issues are handled in the future. He said he would like to see transition insurance or insurance products that agricultural producers can purchase for damage in the gin yard.
“Quite a few of the producers who are on the coast are fairly innovative and try to address risks,” Hudson said. “They know it’s coming, they just don’t know when. So they try and prepare for it the best they can.”