March 7, 2024

Texas growers face ‘catastrophic’ losses from wildfires

Texas growers and agriculture producers face ‘catastrophic’ losses caused by wildfires in the state’s Panhandle and northwest region.

Since Feb. 25, the Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to 56 wildfires burning more than 1,25 million acres, according to its website. The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest of the blazes and the largest wildfire the state’s history, burned nearly 1,700 square miles and was 44% contained as of March 6, according to The Associated Press.

The wildfires ignited in late February under warm, dry and windy conditions, according to the Texas Farm Bureau.

“These fires not only threaten lives and property but will also have a substantial impact on our agriculture industry,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a news release. “Over 85% of the state’s cattle population is located on ranches in the Panhandle. There are millions of cattle out there, with some towns comprising more cattle than people. The losses could be catastrophic for those counties. Farmers and ranchers are losing everything.”

A smoky haze from wildfires hangs over a Texas town
Texas growers in the panhandle expect catastrophic losses from wildfires threatening a 60 county region in the state’s northwest area. Photo by Andy Holloway, Texas A&M AgriLife Hemphill County Extension agent.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), during the summer and fall months, the Texas Panhandle and northwest regions grow watermelons, cucumbers, carrots, squash, onions and potatoes. According to ag statisticians, most of the potato production is in the northwest Panhandle and counties bordering New Mexico, with a major potato packer in Dalhart.

Late summer through fall, apples and peaches are grown in the Panhandle, with pecans grown in the southern part of the region.

Several grain and seed operations have reported total losses in the wildfires.

On March 7, a utility company acknowledged its role in sparking the Smokehouse Creek fire, according to reports from AP and USA Today.

“Based on currently available information, Xcel Energy acknowledges that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire,” the Minnesota-based company said in a statement. “Xcel Energy disputes claims that it acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure.”

The Texas A&M Forest Service said its investigators have concluded that the Smokehouse Creek fire was ignited by power lines, as was the nearby Windy Deuce fire, according to an AP report.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a disaster for 60 counties, which include all of the Panhandle as well as counties to the immediate south of Lubbock and as far east as Wichita Falls.

TDA’s State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund, or STAR Fund, is calling for donations to assist Panhandle farmers and ranchers.

Funded 100% through donations, TDA reimburses qualified agricultural producers 50% of eligible expenses. STAR Fund financial resources cannot be used as compensation for crop or livestock losses but are intended to help rebuild fences, restore operations and cover other expenses related to agricultural disaster relief and restarting operations, according to a news release.

To be eligible, an agriculture business/operation/ranch/farm must reside in a county included in the governor’s disaster declaration. Wildfire disaster declaration counties can be found here.

To donate or for more information, follow this link.

“Donations will go a long way toward rebuilding the Panhandle,” Miller said in the release. “We stand in solidarity with our farmers and ranchers facing loss and destruction.”

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