With wildfires costing Texas agricultural producers about $35 million during March and April, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is requesting assistance from USDA. Sweeping North Texas wildfires over Easter weekend and recent weeks contributed to losses estimated at more than 220,000 acres of pasture, roughly 1,500 miles of fence and almost 500 cattle and calves.
“Wildfires, hurricanes, drought and an economic downturn are hitting Texas producers hard,” Commissioner Staples said. “Texas farmers and ranchers are a resilient bunch, but when disaster strikes it is essential to provide the assistance necessary for recovery, which is why I am requesting Secretary Vilsack take certain actions.”
In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commissioner Staples requests that the secretarial disaster designation process for 18 North Texas counties be initiated immediately and seeks relief funding from the USDA Emergency Conservation Program. Commissioner Staples also asks for acreage in these counties and in neighboring counties enrolled in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program to be opened for haying and grazing.
“These resources are needed to enable livestock to return, and also will allow farm and ranch land ravaged by these fires to be rehabilitated and placed back in production,” Commissioner Staples said.
More about North Texas wildfires
Dry conditions from drought make pastureland susceptible to wildfires, and wind can carry a blaze for days before it runs out of fuel. In March and April of this year, wildfires swept across North Texas. Dr. David Anderson of Texas A&M University estimates pasture losses at $2,221,230, fence replacement at $31,891,200 and cattle and calves losses at $329,700.
“Wildfires have three major effects on livestock producers: lost cattle, lost pasture grazing, and destroyed fences and buildings,” Dr. Anderson said. “Destroyed fences are the largest portion of the financial losses due to fire.”
Replacing fences is an extremely expensive, long-term and capital-intensive cost, Dr. Anderson said: “Those expenses carry on for a long time through increased debt to pay for them.”
Pasture can recover with some timely rains, Dr. Anderson said, but near-term grazing is lost requiring producers to buy more feed, find and lease other pastures or sell cattle and calves.
Producers are encouraged to take advantage of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Hay Hotline. The hotline is a great resource for those who have extra hay to sell or a pasture to lease, and for those who need hay.
A Disaster Resource Information Packet is also available and provides pertinent contact information for state, federal and private agricultural disaster assistance programs. Information on both resources can be found at Texas Department of Agriculture.