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Record Texas Wildfire Could Impact Beef Prices

texas wildfire

The Smokehouse Creek fire in the Texas panhandle already has set a record for size and now is threatening to create record agricultural losses that could send beef prices soaring.

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, surveyed the devastation last week, posting a video in which he said there were “dead animals everywhere.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller predicted the blaze will be responsible for the deaths of 10,000 head of cattle, many of which will need to be euthanized because of damaged hooves or udders and others because of starvation due to the destruction of grazing land and hay losses.

More than 85% of Texas’ cattle industry, worth $15.5 billion – about 18% of the U.S. industry as a whole – is concentrated in the state’s panhandle.

The area suffered from severe drought last year that USDA estimated could decrease national beef production by 24.7 billion pounds. The state is home to about 4.1 million head of beef cattle.

“It’s a tough situation,” The Texas Tribune quoted Miller as saying.

“Ranchers’ income from crops and livestock is gone. So, they’ll just have to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and do the best they can.”

Michael Kelsey of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association told RFD-TV the fire has crossed the state line, threatening the Oklahoma industry, as well.

“We’re going to work through this as best we can,” Kelsey said, adding, the fire coupled with last year’s drought has destroyed generations of cattle breeding efforts by individual ranchers.

USDA reported beef prices are up nearly 5% compared to last year, with choice steaks and sirloin up 12.8%.

The wildfire, which began February 26 about a mile north of Stinnett, has consumed more than 1 million acres, more acreage than the combined total from last year’s fire season. As it expanded, it swallowed up smaller fires in its path, fed by timber in canyon bottoms and grasses amid unseasonably high temperatures and low humidity.

The blaze was just 44% contained as of Wednesday, with authorities predicting it will continue burning for at least a week more.

“Fire still has the potential to move at 1 mph and burn 300 acres in an hour with flame lengths in tall thick grass up to 8 to 12 feet during the peak period of the day,” the Texas A&M Forest Service said on InciWeb.

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