Early estimates from Agrilife show agriculture losses from our recent wildfires add up to $21 million so far.
Agrilife says that number is expected to rise as producers make final reports of their damage in the coming weeks.
Here is the breakdown of economic losses so far:
Lost pasture: $6.1 million
Fence repair/replacement: $6.1 million
Buildings and corals lost: $3.8 million
Livestock death losses: $4 million
Emergency hay and feed: $1 million
The cost of damaged farm equipment has not been calculated at this time.
It's currently estimated that 2,500 cattle were lost in the wildfire, but that number is expected to climb, especially as more animals succumb to fire-related injuries.
As those numbers climb, so will the loss estimations.
“When we value the deaths of cattle at market value, including disposal costs, we’re talking about $3.6 million at this point, and I expect that to go up,” said Dr. Steve Amosson, an Agrilife Extension economist. “We’re still dealing with chaos. They’re still trying to find cattle.”
According to Amosson, it will cost roughly $6.1 million to recover about 480,000 acres of burned pasture. “Basically, ranchers will not be able to graze these pastures this year and will only be able to stock them at half capacity next year while they recover."
Amosson estimates the second major expense tied to the fires will be about $6.1 million to replace and repair fences. “An estimated 975 miles of fence were affected,” he said. “We are assuming that half will be repaired at a cost of $2,500 per mile, and the other half will have to be replaced at a cost of $10,000 per acre. I expect the amount of fence that has to be replaced to rise once they start to repair it and if the wire is too brittle to be effective due to the heat, therefore, this loss will increase."
Amosson said the next step is trying to figure out the long term impact on the cattle industry in our area and how the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 cattle will be fed because of depleted grazing land.
“Initially, ranchers are being provided donated hay and feed that has come into three Livestock Supply Points if they choose to use it,” Amosson said. “But long term, they will have to make a decision to buy hay for a long period of time, send the cattle to market or lease pasture elsewhere.”
Amosson said insurance won't cover much of the loss for most ranchers. “Typically, not much is insured except for ranch houses, sometimes major buildings and once in awhile the cattle."
That's where programs like the 2014 Farm Bill Livestock Indemnity Program come into play. With proper documentation, this USDA Farm Service Agency program can compensate ranchers for 75 percent of the market value of cattle lost in the fire until the preset loss limit for a producer is reached. A portion of fencing replacement costs can also be covered through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Despite burning approximately half the land as the wildfires in 2006, experts estimate the cost of the 2017 fires could rival those from over a decade ago.
"Since 2006 the value of cattle has moved up, the cost of fencing and everything else has moved up so it will be roughly 70 percent of what was lost in 2006," said Amosson.
Once the equipment losses are calculated, Amosson expects the damage to surpass $25 million. There are also many ranchers who do not report their losses, meaning the actual cost of wildfire damages will remain unknown.