Last week’s Hurricane Laura may have struck near the border of Texas and Louisiana, but most of the damage, including losses in agriculture, is being recorded to the east of the Lone Star State.
“Some of our farmers lost everything: their houses; their barns; their crops; their herds — everything,” Louisiana Ag Commissioner Mike Strain told Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue Monday on a video call hosted by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
John Bel Edwards, the state’s governor, echoed those concerns in remarks to reporters Monday. He said the storm produced “extensive” and “catastrophic” damage to the state, including devastating blows to electrical and water infrastructure.
“This is going to be a very difficult storm to recover from,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Strain detailed the damage from a storm that measured sustained winds of 150 miles per hour and a recorded tidal surge of 17 feet (although Strain mentioned some of the state’s measuring equipment was also lost to the storm).
Power remains out for around 300,000 residents in the state and could take as long as four to five weeks to be restored, he said. About 100 poultry operations are running backup generators to keep air moving in their barns, leading to a strong demand for fuel.
An effort to relocate cattle from coastal areas was able to save some animals, but the abbreviated warning time and logistical challenges of moving herds measuring in the hundreds meant not all could be saved. Herds near the coast “for the most part were wiped out,” he said.
“Everybody in harm's way got substantial damage,” he said.
Some of the damaged crops and ag products could still be salvageable, he noted. About 73% of the state’s rice crop was already harvested — but bins storing the crop will need power to keep the rice aerated. He also suggested the sugar cane and cotton crops in the state would have time to recover from the storm before needing to be harvested.
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Timber in the area will require quick attention if it is to be salvaged. Strain said a “massive amount” of timber was destroyed in the state; many trees were snapped about 20-30 feet in the air. The snapped trees are still salvageable and can be made into pulp if processed or stored properly.
The outlook is much better in Texas, John Griffith, the state Farm Bureau director for the region hit by Laura, said residents there were thankful to be on the “dry side” of the storm.
“Going into the storm, everybody was on high alert” and expecting a Category 4 hurricane, Griffith said. “We were able to dodge a pretty substantial bullet.”
He said some areas of eastern Texas are having issues with electricity loss, leading to high demand for fuel in the area. Most of the cotton had already been harvested and was able to be moved to higher ground, and 60-70% of the region’s rice was already harvested.
Griffith said he didn’t know preliminary damage estimates, but was hoping for figures by the end of the week. Strain said it will take much longer in Louisiana, possibly in the next three weeks after survey teams are able to conduct flights to map the damage.
Between Hurricane Laura, the Iowa derecho, and wildfires in California, Strain and Edwards say they expect some kind of ad hoc disaster bill to come from Congress, but want to wait until a clearer picture of the disaster emerges before they estimate what Louisiana will need from the bill. Strain brought up the subject to Perdue on Monday’s NASDA call, who said USDA might need new authority from Congress to use existing funds from previous disaster aid efforts.
“We’re trying to calculate any kind of money we had left over from WHIP+,” Perdue said of the program launched earlier this year to address natural disasters from 2018 and 2019. “We’ll direct it wherever we can with the authority of Congress to do that. It was time limited. They gave us kind of carte blanche through 2019 last year, but we don’t have that same authority this year.”
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