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Central Texas ranchers and farmers pick up the pieces after Arctic storm

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 2:37 AM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Now that the dust has settled, exhausted local farmers and ranchers are assessing what’s left after last week’s unprecedented winter storm.

“It was a tough deal, livestock producers in particular had a really hard time during the severe cold,” said Gary Joiner, spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau. “Some of our row crop producers suffered damage as well, it was a week to remember.”

From rescuing animals stranded on ice to assisting their neighbors keep their herds alive, Joiner said the stories of ‘Texans helping Texans’ in the agriculture industry during the historic ice storm has been heartwarming.

“Some of the remarkable stories we’ve heard regarding livestock--picking up newborn calves from the pasture, putting them in the cab of a pickup truck, turning on the heat and trying to keep that animal warm, some even being taken into homes,” said Joiner. “Unfortunately, some did not make it because of those extreme cold measures, but the livestock survival story was remarkable, and many documented it because they wanted the public to know it’s a compassionate group that are farmers and ranchers doing all they can to care for their animals.”

“It really was about trying to keep animals alive, whether they be cattle, goats, any type of livestock really, had a hard time with that arctic blast,” said Joiner. “Ranchers were breaking water with axes, with sledgehammers, whatever it took so that the water could be accessed by the livestock.”

Central Texas ranchers and farmers are now transitioning from survival mode to recovery mode.

“They’re making repairs as they can,” said Joiner.

Estimates are just starting to come in, however, TFB officials say damage to the agriculture sector could exceed $500,000,000 statewide.

“The bulk of that will be in the Rio Grande Valley where the fruits and vegetables grown there really took a hit,” said Joiner. “Consumers will see an absence of some Texas products for a period of time because of the freeze.”

While the magnitude is still unknown, TFB officials say the storm’s devastation will definitely be felt by consumers.

“Some of the products that are grown that are accustomed to being in our grocery stores won’t be there, and it will be a gap before those products return,” said Joiner. “Other suppliers from other regions of the country, or around the world, will fill in some of those gaps, but short-term we’re going to have some shortages of those things that we look for like Texas citrus, Texas strawberries, some of those leafy vegetables that we grow in the Rio Grande Valley--they’re not going to be there this year, it will be another growth cycle before we see them again.”

Officials say there are lessons to be learned, however, and believe the storm will leave the industry better prepared in the future.

“They’ll be thinking about diesel, they’ll be thinking about how to start those tractors and trucks that require diesel because it was so cold they couldn’t use that equipment, they’ll be thinking about emergency sources of electrical power, emergency sources of water perhaps, better preparing their farms and ranches for that catastrophic, never-before-occurred arctic blast that could occur again,” said Joiner. “They’ll be better prepared because of it.”

Joiner says the storm, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, should serve as reminders to the public of the importance of agriculture.

“Texans have seen empty grocery store shelves now twice in a twelve-month period: I think it’s reminded all of us of the importance of our food supply chain and how vulnerable it is in some cases when those interruptions occur,” said Joiner.

There are state and federal resources available, Joiner said.

Central Texas farmers and ranchers seeking financial aid due to losses from the storm can apply for assistance through USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program here.

Details on USDA disaster assistance programs for crops and trees are also available here.

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