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Short-lived storms too often morph into long-term disasters

Logan Hawkes Former cotton field
This barren field was a South Texas cotton field ready for harvest before Hurricane Harvey destroyed it.
Long-term impact on agriculture from a major weather event can last for decades - even a lifetime

Media reports during and after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, Louisiana, and further inland brought to the forefront a storm of emotions for folks across the U.S. as we gasped at the strength of nature’s fury; just as Floridians and the nation brace for Irma.

On Sept. 1, CNN reported initial Hurricane Harvey losses at 60-plus deaths, 27 trillion gallons of rain including 52 inches at Houston, about $190 billion in financial losses, and 33 Texas counties declared federal disaster areas.

Beyond the tragedies in cities and suburbs, assessing damage and losses in rural areas after a major storm usually takes much longer. A series of articles and photo galleries reported by Southwest Farm Press captured part of the painful sting to South Texas agriculture.

The late-breaking coverage followed the hurricane’s impact on the Texas-sized beef cattle and cotton industries and others, including the destruction of field-ready cotton modules ready for ginning, plus ginned bales shredded to pieces. In one photo, cotton dangled from a power line.   

Disasters in rural areas are nothing new. In 1969, an agricultural journalist rode out Hurricane Camille (Category Five) while battened down in a motel room bathtub on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to capture the words and images on the devastation to agriculture. I vividly remember one photo of a once healthy pine tree forests- blown, twisted, and leveled into huge piles of trees resembling broken wooden toothpicks. The journalist was my father.

The reality is the long-term impact on agriculture from a major weather event (economic and emotional scars) can last for many years - even decades and a lifetime.

California farmers know all too well about 'slow-motion' carnage following the recent five consecutive years of severe drought and the financial impact felt in the wallet for a long time. Statistics from University of California, Davis scientists on the 2014 California drought pegged a statewide economic loss near $2.2 billion; the loss of 17,100 agricultural seasonal and part-time jobs; and fallowing 428,000 acres of irrigated cropland in the Central Valley, Central Coast, and Southern California. The Central Valley had losses near $810 million in lost crop revenue alone.

Agriculture is a risky business and some wonder why farmers and ranchers continue this business venture given its mostly uncontrollable situations - no floors, ceilings, and walls - to keep out threats. Yet as Texans and Floridians know, building structures can mean little when wild weather strikes. 

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