Panhandle Ranchers Hit by Texas Wildfires, but Beef Prices Unaffected

06 Mar 2024
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While the recent wildfires in the Texas Panhandle have dealt a significant blow to individual ranchers, experts assure consumers that overall beef prices won't be affected. David Anderson, an economist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, emphasized that while the fires have caused damage and losses for cattle operations in the Panhandle region, the impact will be localized and won't ripple into the broader Texas or U.S. beef markets.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, spanning over 1 million acres across the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, has led to concerns about potential large-scale cattle losses, especially given that the Panhandle hosts 85% of the state's beef cattle herd. However, Anderson points out that beef cow populations are distributed throughout the state, with varying concentrations in different counties.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about whether this fire would impact cattle prices and consumers, but the short answer is, no,” Anderson said. “I think some people were under the impression there could be a significant percentage of the Texas herd lost, but that is not the case. It’s devastating if your ranch and your herd is in the disaster area, but it won’t really impact cattle or beef prices because of the numbers and scale of the entire market.”

Regarding the financial toll on affected ranchers, Anderson highlights the rapid increase in cattle prices, driven by factors such as the shrinking U.S. and Texas herds due to drought conditions over the past two years. The devastation caused by the wildfires not only affects the immediate value of lost cattle but also disrupts the future potential earnings, particularly during the spring calving season.

Moreover, the destruction of infrastructure such as fencing adds to the financial burden, with the cost of replacement looming large. While efforts are underway to provide support to affected producers, Anderson acknowledges the challenges they face in rebuilding their herds, especially amidst record-high cattle prices and lingering drought conditions.

“How many miles of fence are in those 1 million acres that burned?” he asked. “It’s going to be a big number. Then you have the loss of hay and grass for grazing. The impacts of the fires are going to be felt for a while.”

Despite the setback, Anderson remains cautiously optimistic about the future of the Texas and U.S. beef cattle herds, noting the slow pace of expansion and the time it takes for replenishment, however, he still sees higher prices in the distant future.

“Restocking is difficult when prices are high, and so far we’re looking at slower expansion of the Texas herd,” he said. “Losing animals at a time like this is a terrible blow, but we’re still expecting even higher prices in 2025 and beyond.”


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