The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ranked 2017 as the most expensive year ever for natural disasters in the United States, reported the Washington Post. Hurricanes, wildfires and other catastrophes caused a combined $306 billion in damage, with 16 events that cost $1 billion apiece.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which ravaged Florida's orange crop, "seem to have had little effect on vegetable prices," says USDA's Vegetable and Pulses Outlook. The storms arrived early in the planting season for so-called winter vegetables, "primarily causing a delay in plantings," according to USDA economists.
The one-two punch of Hurricane Harvey on Gulf coast and Hurricane Irma in the Southeast reduced the U.S. cotton crop by more than 600,000 bales, or 3 percent, said the USDA in its monthly crop report. The USDA lowered its estimate of the harvest in Texas, the No. 1 cotton state, and in No. 2 Georgia, down by 300,000 bales apiece.
Crop insurance is a popular safeguard for row-crop farmers, but “a lot of the nation’s vegetables and fruit crops aren’t covered,” says Bloomberg in an examination of crop insurance data in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. “Only 34 percent of vegetable acreage [is] covered, and many less common products are not covered by the program at all.”
Three lawmakers who personally received federal disaster aid packages for their farms over several years were among the handful of representatives who voted on Sept. 8 against federal relief for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, said a post by the blog Republic of Awesome. The assertion is based on publicly available farm payment data published by the Environmental Working Group in its Farm Subsidy Database.
Three federal workers were injured in the collision of a semi-truck and another vehicle in a motorcade carrying Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on a tour of hurricane damage on the Texas Gulf Coast, said the Texas Tribune. Perdue, who was in another vehicle with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway, was not injured.
Florida, the No. 1 citrus-growing state in the nation, suffered "serious and devastating losses from Hurricane Irma," said state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam after an aerial tour of groves in central and southwest Florida. The harvest season for oranges and grapefruit normally begins in October, so the storm arrived as the fruit was nearing maturity.
With classes resuming in Texas following Hurricane Harvey, schools have federal approval to serve free meals to all of their students through the end of this month, said the USDA, which also relaxed its rules on when meals can be served and what qualifies as a meal. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the goal was " to make it as easy as possible to administer the school meals programs at this time to ensure that no child affected by this disaster goes hungry.”
Cotton growers are headed for the largest cotton harvest in 12 years, said USDA's monthly crop report, although officials acknowledged they don't have a full picture of damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck much of the Cotton Belt. The USDA said it would conduct special surveys in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to assess how much of the cotton, rice, peanut and soybean crops were harvested.
For Texas cotton farmers, 2017 was shaping up to be the best harvest in more than a decade, according to NBC News. But then Hurricane Harvey hit and turned their prospects upside down. The turn of events was painful, given that in 2016 “farmers were lucky to harvest one bale of cotton per acre of the profitable crop.” This year, they had been expecting yields of three or four bales per acre.
The 3.75 million food stamp recipients in Texas are cleared to buy hot food with their benefits through Sept. 30 because of damage from Hurricane Harvey and schools in the disaster area can serve free meals to all of their students, said the USDA. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said President Trump "made it clear ... that process and paperwork can wait until later."
The biggest grocery store chains have been quick to reopen in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a sign of just how vital the retailers are to disaster food relief. “On Tuesday, at the height of the flooding, Walmart had closed 134 Houston-area stores. By Thursday, only 21 stores remained closed. H-E-B (a Texas-based grocery chain) also had reopened almost 90 percent of its stores by then. Of the 20 stores owned by Albertson's, 16 are now open,” says NPR.
Based on conditions at the start of August, the USDA forecast the largest U.S. cotton crop in 11 years, 20.6 million bales, but the estimate "is far from a certainty" after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the largest cotton-growing state, says an American Farm Bureau Federation analysis. "Severe flooding related to Hurricane Harvey is likely to have impacted major cotton producing regions."
Texas is easily the largest cattle state in the country, with 12.3 million head, or nearly one of every seven head in the U.S. inventory of 93.6 million cattle. The 54 Texas counties declared a disaster area due to damage by Hurricane Harvey hold 1.2 million beef cows, the animals that are the foundation of the cattle industry, says livestock economist David Anderson of Texas A&M.