February 19, 2021
Farmers and ranchers in the south continue to assess the damage following the record-setting and deadly Arctic blast. Texas state agricultural officials say the cost of this storm will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Just our citrus industry, their loss of just the fruit, not including damage to trees, is over $300 million and it will put a lot of our citrus growers out of business," said Sid Miller, commissioner of agriculture in Texas. "Dairymen are going to go bankrupt and some of our poultry farmers, but this all could have been avoided."
The straight-talking Miller lamented over not just the arctic air's disastrous impact on fruits, vegetables and livestock, but also the state's own hand in worsening the crisis by not prioritizing agricultural processors.
"I told the governor, 'Hey, people are going to have to eat, the shelves are going to go bare and we need to keep these plants running,'" said Miller. "It fell on deaf ears, unfortunately."
He said his request to add agricultural processors to the critical infrastructure list still hasn't been answered by Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas. The state's dairy industry has been particularly impacted as processors have gone without the power or natural gas needed to keep running.
"We've got to have natural gas to heat the milk to pasteurize it or dry it down to powdered milk," said Miller. "We're not going to get any until Tuesday."
With nowhere to ship milk, dairy farmers are looking for new buyers or being forced to dump hundreds of thousands of pounds, even as grocery stores remain bare.
We've already dumped about 1,500 to 1,600 trailer truckloads of milk," explained Miller.
"We're sending it all over the United States to anybody that'll take it, but we can't get rid of it all."
He said poultry producers have lost chickens, and some hatcheries are without power and will lose all of the eggs in incubators. Feed producers haven't been able to run, putting some dairy and poultry producers low on feed. Packing plants have been shut down and Miller expects to see cattle backing up at the processor in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, in south Texas, fruits and vegetables were already planted in the ground and on the tree.
"You don't ever think about a freeze in the Rio Grande Valley, but our citrus crop is basically wiped out," said Miller. "All of our oranges are gone and 60% of our grapefruit."
He says the other 40% would still be good enough to squeeze for juice but the processing plants that do it don't have power.
"No electricity, no gas, so we're probably going to be throwing all of the grapefruit away," said Miller.
He expects it will take three to four weeks to survey the damage and get a final tally, although the true impact may take longer to figure out.
"It's going to be a continuous thing because a lack of water is going to cause founder and colic or pneumonia," Miller said.
Agronomy experts say winter kill in the wheat crop may not show up for several weeks or until things warm and the crop breaks dormancy.
Miller recommended producers keep tabs and records at their farms.
"We'll get through this," Miller said. "We're tough. We will bounce back."