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Texas Panhandle Fires Still Not Contained

What Damage Are Agricultural Industries Facing?



As of Betty Berning's article on Feb 28th, the Texas panhandle fires have consumed more than a million acres of land. The fire has pushed its way east into Oklahoma today putting even more agricultural business at risk. Strong winds, drought, and unusually high temperatures this month have contributed to how quickly the fires are moving across the state.


Eleven million beef cows call Texas home and of that 88% are in the Texas panhandle. With no real numbers available yet on how many cows have been evacuated or turned loose to make their way to safety, it’s hard to tell exactly how these fires will impact the beef industry. But looking back to the last wildfire to ravage this area of Texas, we can expect losses to be in the thousands and beef prices are climbing, maybe in part because of this uncertainty.


The same holds true for the over 100,000 head of dairy cows east of Amarillo. With no real numbers available we can only speculate on the extent of damage to milk producing facilities and the long-term implications of devastation to dairy cows themselves. 


Looking to History

In 2006, the Texas panhandle experienced its largest wildfire. It burned 700 miles of fence line, destroyed thousands of acres of grassland and stored hay supplies. Upwards of 6,000 head of cattle lost their lives in the fire and hundreds of structures were damaged. The supply chains was disrupted in the short and long-term.


We can expect a similar impact in the aftermath of this wildfire.  Not only are farmers and ranchers contending to save livestock, they are watching their feed sources go up in flame. As are other regions of the U.S. who depend on the abundant grasslands for livestock feed. Hopefully this early season fire still leaves room for a productive hay season in the panhandle. 


Cattle Numbers

Cattle numbers are already at a record low this year, and with one of the most densely populated areas in the country blazing, it's likely we will see the cost of beef keep increasing.


While animals have the sense to flee to safety, it’s the collapse of infrastructure to support dairy and cattle operations that will be impacted the most.

It will be a while before all of the affected areas have electric up and running again.  Similarly, even with disaster relief assistance some of these claims will take months to process.  The lack of infrastructure could also foreshadow an increase in milk, dairy, and meat prices.


Energy

Another large sector of the Texas economy is energy. The panhandle is riddled with wind turbines and is becoming home to more and more solar farms. Damage to these energy producing technologies is yet to be discussed. We know Texas has worked hard to stabilize the energy grid, but can it accommodate a million-acre wildfire?


Similarly, the Texas panhandle houses many oil rigs, some of which must certainly be burning right now. This little area of the world supplies a lot of important things to America and beyond. 





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