POTH, Texas – As the president of the Texas Farm Bureau, Russell Boening experienced much of what the rest of the state’s agriculture industry endured during last month’s record cold.
Boening is a dairy farmer, rancher and grower in Wilson County, where he made the same heartbreaking decision as other dairy farmers.
With no facilities that still had power that could process their perishable commodity, Boening said he had no choice but to dump 55,000 gallons of milk.
“When you have to do it, you just you do it,” Boening said. “You just basically want to close your eyes because you don’t want to see it happening.”
Boening said the dairy industry and the Rio Grande Valley’s prized citrus crop were among the hardest hit.
Boening said he agrees with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s prediction that the financial impact of the winter storm could be a billion dollars, if not more.
“We’re at a third of a billion with just the citrus in the Valley,” Boening said. “So, it could get into the billions. It surely could.”
Dale Murden, president of Texas Citrus Mutual, the industry’s trade organization in Mission, said the more than 50 hours below freezing, four of those under 28 degrees, were cold enough to kill what citrus remained on the trees.
But Murden said at least it didn’t get as cold as it did in 1983 and 1989 when the temperatures were in the teens.
“Those two freezes were definitely tree-killing freezes,” he said.
Still uncertain is how many trees survived last month.
Murden said he’s hopeful the older trees will be able to recover, unlike the younger trees that will probably die.
Yet he said they don’t want to cut down a tree too early if it still has a chance.
“It’s just painfully slow to be patient, to know what exactly you need to do to a tree,” Murden said.
Although about half of the grapefruit crop already had been harvested and sold, he said, 55% of it was still in the orchards, along with 98% of the late orange crop.
With the fragrant orange blossoms already on the trees, Murden said next year’s crop is gone.
He said it’s been estimated the citrus industry has an economic impact of $468 million.
“When you don’t have a crop to harvest, lots of jobs are impacted,” Murden said.
The Texas Farm Bureau has been assessing the winter storm damage, but its spokesman said the figures, when complete, will come from the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.