Hurricane Harvey drives up cattle futures

Stranded cows push prices to three-week high

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A deluge of rain from Hurricane Harvey is soaking Texas pastures, leaving some animals stranded in floodwater in the state that leads the United States in beef production.

At least 25 inches of rain fell at Wendt Ranches near Bay City, Texas, prompting floodwaters to start rising quickly on Sunday, rancher Gene Kubecka said. Water was waist-deep in some areas, and Kubecka used a tractor to drive through the washed-out area and move 600 head of cattle to higher ground.

The area is north of Rockport, where Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25.

Cattle futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rose as much as 2.6 percent Monday, reaching the highest price in almost three weeks.

“The water started rising, and within about two to three hours we went from OK to ‘we have to do something real quick,’” Kubecka said Monday by phone. “We’ve never had this much rain on the ranch.”

Flooding is expected to have a significant impact on ranchers in rural areas outside Corpus Christi and Houston, said Jeremy Fuchs, spokesman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

So far, it’s been very difficult for ranchers in the area to get out onto the pastures and assess damage as some roads are impassable and it’s still raining, he said.

Harvey drenched Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, with as much as 30 inches of rain. More than 30,000 people will need shelter as a result of the storm, according to a government estimate.

The downpours are forecast to last through the week. The storm sent ripples through agriculture markets as cotton crops and coffee stockpiles also were threatened by the floodwaters.

Sanderson Farms, the third-largest chicken processor in the nation, shut its plant in Bryan, about 100 miles northwest of Houston, after several roads became “impassable, making it difficult to get to farms and” ship product from the facility, Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said in an email Monday. The company is filling orders from other plants.

Dean Foods also closed an area factory that makes fluid milk products, juices and teas, according to the company.

Teams from the Texas Animal Health Commission haven’t been able to get out to assess the situation yet due to the rain and flooding, said Thomas Swafford, the group’s spokesman. It’s hard to say how much of an impact the “catastrophic flood and storm” will have on livestock until crews can get out to check on them, he said.

“A significant amount of cattle raisers have been impacted by this,” Fuchs said Monday by phone from Austin. “We suspect there are going to be lots of fences down, lots of cattle out and lots of work to be done to rebuild the infrastructure and recover those animals.”

There’s at least a foot of standing water on pastures owned by rancher Ray Law, who has 100 head of cattle on his farm 20 miles east of downtown Houston. He’s so far been unable to round up the animals amid heavy rain, he said by phone on Monday.

About half his 70 chickens died after a pen flooded, and “it was raining so hard I couldn’t get in there to get them out,” he said. Some of his cows are stranded in the floodwater.

The pasture land is “high enough that they’re not going to drown, but they’re not happy,” Law said, noting some of the cows are probably in water up to their knees.

“You can’t go round them up in this kind of stuff. They just have to take care of themselves and hope for the best,” he said.

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