Ranchers still need help after Ike

March 5, 2009 4:44:45 PM PST
Southeast Texas ranchers and farmers are in dire need of help six months after Hurricane Ike killed thousands of their cattle and destroyed equipment and miles of fencing, the state's top agriculture official said Thursday. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Donations, fencing materials and volunteers are needed to help ranchers and farmers recover from Ike, which hit the Texas Gulf Coast on Sept. 13, said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

"Now is the time to invest resources and focus on the future of Southeast Texas," he said at a news conference at the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the world's largest. "Ranchers need about 1,700 miles of fencing replaced that were washed out. This is desperately needed to renew our Southeast Texas cattle industry."

He said this portion of Texas' cattle industry has an annual economic impact on the state of about $130 million.

More than half a million acres, mainly in Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties, was flooded by Ike's storm surge, devastating the two main agricultural producers in the region, cattle ranches and rice farms.

Agricultural losses caused by Ike are estimated at more than $900 million. But Staples said a statewide drought is hampering recovery efforts and the recession has driven down prices on agriculture products.

More than 10,000 cattle died during Ike or later due to dehydration, sickness or starvation, said Dave Scott, first vice president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Another 20,000 cattle were displaced by the storm because Ike wiped away the thousands of miles of fencing.

The lack of fencing forced many ranchers to ship surviving cattle to other parts of the state where they could graze for the winter. But because of the drought, hay and feed supplies are dwindling and those relocated cattle will soon have nothing to eat.

"Cattle that were relocated have to come home now. But we still have no fences," said Hollis Gilfillian, with the Independent Cattleman's Association of Texas.

Rebuilding the lost fencing could cost as much as $10,000 a mile.

Staples asked for volunteers to come to Southeast Texas on April 25 and take part in a massive effort to rebuild fences in Chambers, Galveston, Jefferson, Liberty and Orange counties.

"Today is a call for action," Staples said. "We need Texans from all walks of life to use your resources, give specific items or cash donations so we can help rebuild fences."

Mallory Hisler, a 17-year-old from Oak Island, a town of some 300 people on the shores of Trinity Bay, said her family lost its home, cattle, goats, horses, one donkey, and all its farming equipment, hay crop and fencing during Ike.

But right after the storm, her family began rebuilding, thanks in part to the help of volunteers.

"I would like to thank every volunteer that has come to help us and will continue to help us because Lord knows we can't do it on our own," she said.

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