March 13, 2024


Wildfires in Texas Panhandle, US, unlikely to seriously affect beef cattle markets, says expert




Wildfires in the Texas Panhandle, the United States caused significant cattle losses for individual ranchers, but should not impact beef cattle markets or consumers, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.


The wildfires have damaged and disrupted cattle operations in the Panhandle; however, AgriLife Extension experts said cattle and infrastructure losses will impact individual producers and not ripple into the Texas or US cattle and beef market.


David Anderson, PhD, AgriLife Extension economist at the Texas A&M Department of Agricultural Economics, Bryan-College Station, said it may be weeks before there are estimates for lost cattle, but he expects the impact of the wildfire to be localised.


The Smokehouse Creek Fire that started in Hutchinson County has burned more than one million acres across the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma. The size and scope of the fire along with reports about the Panhandle being home to 85% of Texas' beef cattle herd has led to inferences about large-scale cattle losses.


Much of the state's cattle herd does move through the Panhandle as the region is a major hub for feedlots where beef cattle are fed grain before being processed. However, beef cow populations are spread throughout the state.


"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," Anderson said. "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."


Anderson said individual losses could mount very quickly for producers in the fire's path, especially considering cattle values and the cost of infrastructure like fencing.


Cattle prices continue to trend upward and set all-time records. Anderson expects that trend will continue into 2025 as the US and Texas herd has shrunk over the past two years due to drought.


Anderson said he hopes producers impacted by the wildfire receive the assistance they need to recover. Rebuilding a herd amid record-high cattle prices will make it difficult.


The beef cattle herd in Texas is the smallest – 4.1 million head – since 2014. The Texas herd started to recover from the 2011-2012 drought after that low point.


The US' beef cow herd fell 2% since last year to 28.2 million head, according to the USDA cattle inventory report. Anderson said the report estimate is the lowest number of US beef cows since 1961.


The Texas herd expanded rapidly after the 2011-2012 drought, and prices spiked in 2015. But that may not be the case this time due to high prices and lingering drought conditions.


Anderson said he has still not seen definitive signs that producers have begun holding back replacement heifers at rates that suggest widespread rebuilding of the Texas or US herds. Expansion of the state and national herd can take years.


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

- AgriLife Today
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