Harvey Sweeps Through Texas

Cotton, Rice Crops Among Damages Farmers See From Epic Hurricane

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A wind- and rain-damaged cotton bale stands next to a recently flooded field of cotton near Odem, Texas. Such bales would lose value from damage, but many Texas cotton producers still had their crops in the field when Hurricane Harvey hit, and they face total losses. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Whatley)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Farmers and livestock producers in eastern Texas are still getting heavy rains Monday in areas flooded over the weekend when Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

Producers and others on social media posted videos and photos throughout the weekend of cattle wading through the water, or the center of town, and crops destroyed by the rain.

The rainfall totals from the hurricane topped 27 inches in Brazoria County south of Galveston, Texas, according to the National Weather Service. Up to 5 more inches were expected Monday in parts of coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana. Rivers and streams are not expected to crest in parts of Texas until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Cotton harvest was underway in southeast Texas, though it's still in the early stages. Widespread areas saw unpicked cotton fields destroyed, while harvested cotton in wrapped bales or square modules was at risk for wind and water damage. Reacting to the storm, cotton prices were up Monday. Early trading on the CME's December cotton contract was up 1.58 cents to 69.73 cents a pound.

Jon Whatley, who farms cotton, sorghum and other crops near Odem, Texas, said Victoria, Texas -- between Houston and Corpus Christi -- is essentially the cutoff where the cotton harvest had stopped. Most farmers near Victoria or north had not gotten their cotton picked, while most farmers farther south had harvested.

"The farmers north of Victoria took a big hit," Whatley said. "We took a hit with our cotton that was not at the gin, but not as big as those farmers to the north."

The Whatleys had just gotten their crop out of the field. Jon Whatley said it was the best crop he had ever produced.

"It was a record crop, a once in the ages," he said.

He noted the benefit of that big crop would be lost for cotton still in the field because crop insurance covers a 10-year average of production and not the specific value of the crop in the field.

"We're more fortunate than our neighbors to the north that hadn't gotten hardly anything harvested," Whatley said.

Whatley and a few other farmers were planning to spend Monday afternoon cutting trees that had fallen in nearby towns.

Charles Ring, who farms just north of Odem near Sinton, Texas, said his farm was somehow in an area that only got about 5 to 6 inches of rain over the weekend and he missed the brunt of the damage.

"I almost feel guilty about it," Ring said. "All of my bales are still on high ground, no major damage at the office. I guess we dodged a bullet being just 30-some-odd miles away from the center of the thing."

Ring added, "I even feel a little bit guilty the cotton market went up and I took advantage of it."

Ring said he's seen a lot of social media photos of destroyed cotton modules -- large square bales that aren't wrapped like the round ones. Other photos show round bales in 4 feet of water that are also damaged. At least one local elevator and local gin suffered heavy damage, Ring said.

Chet Zdunkewicz, a farmer and seed sales rep near Needville, Texas, (southwest of Houston) said his area received more than 24 inches of rain since Friday. He spent his weekend moving cotton bales that were sitting in floodwater.

"We moved bales for three days out of water like that," he said. "The stuff that's in the field that hasn't been picked yet, that's pretty much a 100% loss."

Zdunkewicz added he also has a small cattle herd standing in about 8 inches of water. If the fields can drain, the cows will be fine. Zdunkewicz said if the water doesn't recede in the next few days he will have to figure out some way to move the cattle.

Gene Kubecka, who ranches near Bay City, Texas, has moved about 200 cattle to higher ground since Sunday. A brief video posted on Twitter (http://dld.bz/…) by a relative showed the cattle wading through chest-high water. His cattle are in pretty good shape for now, but roughly 75% of his ranch is underwater, and Kubecka noted heavy rain continued to pour on Monday.

"We've probably had 2 1/2 to 3 inches just in the last hour and a half," Kubecka said early Monday afternoon. "The eye of the storm is right on top of us right now."

Kubecka said his cattle are on high ground for now, but his ranch has multiple creeks on it, which are beneficial in dry times, but now could be flooded for an extended period of time because of downstream flow and releases from upstream dams. "It's about to get real serious for everybody in this entire area," Kubecka said.

Kubecka was able to get his cotton harvested, but he also pointed out that most of the other cotton farms in his area remain unharvested. "And we had one of the best cotton crops we've ever had in this area," he said.

The storm hammered the Beaumont, Texas, area overnight with about 10 inches of rain, said Chuck Kiker who ranches and farms near Beaumont. Kiker was checking forecasts that the heavy rain would continue into Wednesday.

"If we get another 10 inches tonight, things are going to turn pretty bad real quick," Kiker said.

Early Monday, Kiker was checking on some bulls that took to standing on a ditch embankment because it was the highest ground around the pasture. He was trying to make sure his cattle had some access to higher ground. "They can't stay there forever, but ideally the water will go down quicker than that and they can get back to grazing."

Eastern Texas along the Gulf Coast also has a handful of counties with significant rice production. The crop in Texas this year is estimated at 181,000 acres, yielding 12,670 cwt. Kiker estimated roughly 75% of the local rice crop is out of the fields. Rice left in the field could be OK if it doesn't go underwater or get hit with high winds that can also whip off the grain.

"When rice fields go under water it's pretty serious," Kiker said. "But there's really not much you can do, but leave everything alone and wait for it to dry out."

Officials have listed several numbers for farmers, ranchers and residents to contact. For Texas producers seeking a large or small animal shelter, call 2-1-1.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is looking for volunteers. To help or donate, go to www.Nvoad.org

For assistance, go to www.Disasterassistance.gov or call 800-621-FEMA

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


Chris Clayton