Texas wildfires

Feb 29, 2024
Texas panhandle growers threatened by wildfires

Catastrophic losses are imminent for Texas’ growers and agriculture producers in the state’s Panhandle and northwest region as five wildfires scorch the region.

More than 850,000 acres have burned, and several fires are still not fully contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, according to a news release.

Texas wildfires
Texas growers in the panhandle expect catastrophic losses from wildfires threatening a 60 county region in the state’s northwest area. Photos by Andy Holloway, Texas A&M AgriLife Hemphill County Extension agent.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in Texas’ history, continues burning. The wildfires ignited on Feb. 26 under warm, dry and windy conditions and have blazed a trail of devastation across the region, according to a Texas Farm Bureau news release.

“It’s a devastating situation for Panhandle towns, families and agriculture,” Texas Farm Bureau officials said in the release.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a disaster for 60 counties, which include all of the panhandle and as far south the counties to the immediate south of Lubbock and as far east as Wichita Falls, with counties just northwest of Fort Worth.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), during the summer and fall months, the panhandle and northwest regions grow watermelons, cucumbers, carrots, squash, onions and potatoes. According to ag statisticians, most of the potato production is in the northwest panhandle and counties bordering New Mexico with a major potato packer in Dalhart. Most watermelons are in the southwest part of the region. About 90% of Texas’ pumpkins are grown in west Texas.

Late summer through fall, panhandle growers grow apples and peaches. The panhandle is home to seven other (lower than “minor”) apple producing counties, including a grower northeast of Lubbock, with two in the adjacent Oklahoma panhandle. For peaches, 14 counties are other with one minor. Pecans are grown in the southern part of the panhandle.

Texas wildfires
Five wildfires are scorching Texas’ panhandle.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has announced his commitment to providing unwavering support to the state’s agricultural producers as they deal with the aftermath of the devastating wildfires burning in the Texas Panhandle.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, one of five active fires devastating the region, continues with minimal containment. Additionally, several grain and seed operations have reported total losses.

“Commissioner Miller and the Texas Department of Agriculture are ready to provide vital assistance to Texans in need through agricultural relief funds, essential hay and feed resources, and feeding programs for affected families,” TDA officials said in a news release.

Texas Department of Agriculture “The Smokehouse Creek Fire is closing in on becoming the largest fire on record in Texas,” Commissioner Miller said in the release. “These fires not only threaten lives and property but will also have a substantial impact on our agriculture industry. Over 85% of the state’s cattle population is located on ranches in the panhandle. There are millions of cattle out there, with some towns comprising more cattle than people. The losses could be catastrophic for those counties. Farmers and ranchers are losing everything.”

TDA’s State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund, or STAR Fund, is calling for donations to assist panhandle farmers and ranchers. The STAR Fund mobilizes resources to support affected agricultural producers.

Funded 100% through donations, TDA reimburses qualified agricultural producers 50% of eligible expenses. STAR Fund financial resources cannot be used as compensation for crop or livestock losses but rather to help rebuild fences, restore operations, and cover other expenses related to agricultural disaster relief and restarting operations, according to the release.

To be eligible, an agriculture business/operation/ranch/farm must reside in a county included in the governor’s disaster declaration. Wildfire disaster declaration counties can be found here.

“Donations will go a long way toward rebuilding the Panhandle,” Commissioner Miller said in the release. “We stand in solidarity with our farmers and ranchers facing loss and destruction. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this challenging time, and we’re committed to supporting their recovery efforts every step of the way.”

Additionally, 16 school districts closed due to the wildfires. TDA will permit school districts to provide meals and continue to serve kids under the unanticipated school closure waiver flexibility.

To donate or for more information on the STAR Fund please follow this link.


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