Scorched land and economic hardship face Texas farmers and ranchers reeling from wildfires

WASHINGTON — Jonathon Haralson isn’t sure what started the fire that burned through his Eastland County farm.

His family has operations in different parts of Texas, but their home base is about 4 miles north of Carbon, southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, where multiple fires have overwhelmed local firefighting resources. and forced residents to be evacuated last month.

“He just swept away our little community,” Haralson said. “It burned all the way to our house, all the way to the back porch.”

The fire did not take over the house itself, but significantly damaged a building that serves as their office and guesthouse. He also destroyed trailers and a lot of hay – about 370 rolls.

“How my cattle were spared, I don’t know,” he said.

Farmers and ranchers in Texas have been devastated by recent wildfires, but they can seek help from various federal disaster recovery programs aimed specifically at agriculture, and some Texans in Congress are working to speed up the process for them.

The fire at the Eastland complex resulted in the loss of at least 400 head of cattle and about 40 sheep, said Monty Dozier, program manager for the disaster assessment and recovery unit of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

Other parts of the state have also been affected by wildfires and the risk of new fires is high.

Animals that suffer burns to their udders or hooves usually end up entering the human food supply if they can pass inspection – or potentially becoming pet food if they can’t.

Statewide loss figures are still being compiled as more animals are expected to be lost to respiratory issues that can take time to develop after inhaling large amounts of smoke and of ash, Dozier said.

The US Natural Resources Conservation Service is working with producers on federal compensation payments to help with lost animals and feed. Keeping livestock fed is a struggle after the fires destroyed both hay stocks and pasture.

Rep. August Pfluger of San Angelo recently joined fellow Republican House members from Texas, Roger Williams, John Carter, Ronny Jackson and Pat Fallon, in asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to d accelerating emergency loans to those recovering from a fire.

“The immense loss of livestock, livestock, crops and homes is beyond heartbreaking,” Pfluger said in a statement after visiting first responders and community leaders battling fires at the Eastland complex near Carbon. “Although we are seeing an outpouring of support, more resources are needed.”

As always, farmers will be watching the weather closely, not just to control more fires, but because it will take rain and higher temperatures for the thousands of acres of scorched grass to regrow.

“It’s going to be six to eight weeks,” Dozier said. “That’s why the need for such a high volume of hay – to help sustain these cattle through the post-fire greening period and into the spring.”

He stressed the importance of support from the private sector and the federal government to help producers who have lost livestock that represent their version of a 401(k).

“Their livelihood is associated with that herd of cows,” Dozier said.

The NRCS can help producers safely dispose of animal carcasses and the environmental impacts of fires.

“Vegetation loss not only affects forage for livestock and wildlife habitat, but can lead to increased soil loss due to wind and water erosion,” said Kristy Oates. , state conservationist for the NRCS in Texas, in a statement.

Eligible counties in Texas include Blanco, Brooks, Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Erath, Grayson, Hood, Mason, Potter, Randall, Runnels, Starr, and Williamson.

NRCS conservationists are available to assist landowners with post-fire strategies to restore land. Producers can also access federal emergency loans and funds to repair damaged fencing or debris removal.

Livestock Concerns

Haralson said he has relatively new fencing on his farm which will now need replacing as the fires have burned through its galvanized zinc coating, rendering it brittle.

He estimated the overall damage to his operation at more than $100,000 and said he knew other growers in the area with similar losses. Producers who rely on irrigation have seen damage to their center pivots and wells and are facing a shortage of parts to repair them.

“The agricultural industry in our region has certainly been strained,” he said.

Many cattle are left with little to graze and others have fallen ill after passing through the ash-covered sandbox the fires left behind.

In some cases, the outer shell of cows’ hooves begins to peel off due to the intense heat they have endured.

“There is no solution to this. These cattle are terminal and will either have to enter the food chain if they pass inspection or they will have to be made into dog food,” Haralson said. “Those are the only options and it’s salvage value at best.”

He said it was inspiring to see the community come together to help those affected by the fires.

“It’s a tough business. I’ve been through a lot but not like this. He just knocked down structures, wasted no time.

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