Daniel Berglund sat in a recliner, situated haphazardly in a rental house he’s getting ready to move into—temporarily, until his flood-damaged home is habitable—surrounded by boxes, bits and pieces of furniture, some clothes and other household items.
He had been waiting on the cable company to connect service but had to leave for a few minutes. While he was gone, the cable truck checked in, found no one home and was driving away just as this reporter drove up, so another appointment would be necessary. In the grand scale of things, it’s a minor annoyance. “They’ll be back,” Berglund said.
Berglund, a Wharton County rice, soybean and corn farmer, is one of countless South Texas residents displaced by either wind damage or flooding from Hurricane Harvey. “We had 10 inches of water in our house,” he said. “We didn’t have wind damage, just water. We left Thursday night, the last day of August, and couldn’t get back in until the following Saturday. We did make one trip back, in a boat, to take stuff out of the freezer and the refrigerator. It’s been exhausting, but we do what needs to be done.”
He said flood waters from the Colorado River, which flows three-quarters of a mile from his home, have come close to the house before, but never inside. “The lack of control is frustrating,” he said. “We could do nothing to stop it.”
He had flood insurance, so he’s not looking at a total economic disaster. He says he was “very fortunate with cropland as well.” All the corn was harvested as was his first rice crop. The second, ratoon, crop was under water for three days and had some damage from flooding. “Some of the earliest rice was heading; some was about to head, and some was just getting started. I expect we will see about a 15 percent yield loss in the ratoon crop.”
He lost about 200 acres of soybeans. “They were far enough along that the rain hurt them. I insured those out,” he says. “We’ve been looking for soybean varieties that adapt to the Gulf Coast, varieties that will handle rain at harvest time. Soybeans are not very forgiving; it’s hard to get them to recover. Soybeans are mostly bred for the Midwest conditions, not for the Gulf Coast.”
The crop was promising, he says. “We had some good beans, a 40-to 45-bushel per acre yield was possible, but they didn’t stand the rain.”
DAY BY DAY
Berglund is philosophical about handling the things he has no control over. “We’ll take it day by day,” he says. “We’re not hurt nearly as bad as most; we have flood insurance. A lot of people are hurt a lot more. This is an inconvenience.”
He says before the latest spate of rain showers hit the Texas Gulf Coast he was getting ready for 2018. “We had three tractors running, getting ready for next year. We will collect what we can from assistance and get ready for another crop.”
He advises other growers to work with their financial institutions. He says low interest disaster loans might be available, as well as crop insurance indemnities. “Put together the best package possible that will cash flow, and carry on.”
He doesn’t expect to need an emergency loan. “Our crops were already out.”
He would like to see some tweaks in emergency loan programs, however. In some cases, he explains, equipment is used as collateral. Much of that equipment will have been depreciated, making it ineligible for depreciation to reduce the debt. “I’d like to see an option to receive a certificate of value on that equipment so we can depreciate that value.”
CATTLE AND COTTON HARD HIT
Berglund says farmers with early-harvested crops—rice, corn, and grain sorghum—had crops harvested before Hurricane Harvey hit. “The cotton and cattle folks took the biggest hit,” he says. “It will be a long time for the livestock industry to recover.” Cattle were scattered across the region, looking for high ground. A significant death loss is anticipated, and rangeland will be limited for months.
“Battling diseases and maintaining nutrition will be a challenge for ranchers. Without proper nutrition, cattle go down fast.”
Berglund is on the board of directors for Rice Belt Warehouse, chairman of the Texas Soybean Board, and is vice chairman of the Texas Corn Producers Board.
He says hurricane damage across the Gulf Coast has been a harsh setback for agriculture, but as is the case with most, he’s resolved to clean up the debris, take care of his family and start making plans for the 2018 crop.
It takes more than inconvenience to keep farmers from getting back in the fields.