Even though parts of South Texas are turning dry once again, folks in the Lower-Coastal Bend can count their blessings they were not in Hurricane Ike's path.
The post-hurricane news coverage of Ike's devastation from flooding and tidal surge in the upper Texas coastal region has documented the extensive damage to homes, businesses and community facilities. But little coverage has been devoted to the hurricane's impact on agricultural production in that region.
Livestock producers and rice and soybean farmers who took a direct hit from Ike have sustained damage to more than their homes in the upper coastal tier of counties. Many involved in the ranching business have a whole new set of livestock management challenges.
Particularly hard hit were locations around Anahuec, Winnie and southeast to Sabine Pass, as well as adjacent coastal parishes of Louisiana. These livestock producers had pastureland inundated by a ten to twenty foot tidal surge of Gulf salt water.
That created an immediate problem for the owners of thousands of cattle stranded in flooded pastures with no grass to graze or fresh water to drink. Carcasses of drowned animals became more evident as storm waters receded.
Compounding these problems were miles of damaged fences and large numbers of thirsty, malnourished, displaced livestock found wandering down county roadways.
All this, at a time when soil conditions were too wet to allow stock trailers and trucks to get into the remote areas to assist with relocation of surviving cattle to alternate pasture sites on higher ground.
"Operation No Fences", a relief effort to assist livestock owners in the hardest hit areas of Chambers, Liberty and Jefferson counties, was initiated by Texas AgriLife Extension. This effort coordinated the distribution of hay, supplemental feed, stock water and other resources to aid livestock producers who were trying to deal with management problems.
As resources allowed, livestock producers in eastern Harris, Galveston, Harden and Orange counties were also provided assistance. County Extension Agents and specialists with AgriLife Extension from around the state were deployed to assist with these efforts.
Texas Animal Health Commission and Texas Department of Agriculture officials, brand inspectors with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser's Association, as well as volunteers with the Independent Cattleman's Association of Texas and USDA's NRCS personnel were among those involved in supporting the relief effort.
It may be weeks before the exact number of cattle that perished as a result of this storm can be determined. Officials working with this relief effort would only say that the losses would likely total in the thousands rather than the hundreds.
Local officials estimate that the cattle population in the affected counties was approximately 40,000 head, with easily half of those pastured in the hard hit areas. A relief worker commented that losses to the local cattle industry are staggering.
It would not be surprising if death losses exceed 10 percent of the area's cattle herd numbers. Another volunteer indicated that judging by the pig carcasses discovered in some areas, Ike was so devastating that it actually took a toll on the feral hog population.
With the arrival of fall, concerns of these producers quickly turn to how they will sustain the surviving cattle through the upcoming months. Many producers rely on the over-seeding ryegrass on their pastureland to provide winter grazing.
The big question that looms over areas that experienced salt water encroachment is how long these lands will remain non-productive. This storm event created major long-term problems for agriculture in the upper coastal counties.
Monty Dozier, Texas AgriLife Extension's Regional Program Director for Agriculture and Natural Resources, has been involved as a site coordinator for this relief effort since it was initiated.
He stated that the generous outpouring of support from the Texas agricultural industry has been tremendous, but the magnitude of the problems created by this storm continues to expand.
For those who want to lend a helping hand to the Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief Fund; Texas AgriLife Extension has established a telephone hotline for accepting donations by calling (979) 845-2604 or by going to http://agrilifevents.tamu.edu and following the prompts to "No Fences Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief".
To make in-kind donations of hay, feed, water troughs, materials transportation or other needed donations, call the Texas Department of Agriculture's Hay Hotline at (877) 429-1998 or (800) 835-5832 and press "0".
For more on this natural disaster and the flood that has caused extensive damage in Presidio County along the Rio Grande River in southwest Texas, check out stories and photos at http://agnews.tamu.edu.
Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5223.