AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the overcast weather set down a slight fog, Mark Prinz dug deep into the soil to replant his corn crop.
“Still will be about almost a month and a half behind from when we originally planted,” Prinz said. “But there’s still hope for it if we can keep getting some later rains.”
Prinz is the owner and operator of Prinz Farms in Coupland, Texas. Like many other Central Texans, Prinz was challenged with the realities of this year’s weather conditions. But, while many others have recovered from the effects of the February winter storms, the reality for the agriculture industry is different. For farmers like Prinz, many steps lie ahead to replant and regrow produce.
“I was actually replanting a part of our corn crop on last Thursday,” Prinz said. “I think it would replace 130 acres of corn, roughly.”
Prinz’ farm produces corn and wheat, which is usually grown in the spring months. That means he didn’t lose as much produce from the winter storm as some. But, even he’s still bouncing back.
Farmers seek financial assistance
After the grounds cleared and dried, Prinz reached out to the crop insurance adjusters who inspect fields after reported loss from damages due to storms or diseases. Even though it’s a critical recovery step for dry-land farmers, the insurance does not pay farmers profit, making it important to replant.
“It’d be no different than a car. You’re not going to replace it with insurance calls,” Prinz said. “I compare it to my crop. [The crop insurance] is to keep you from totally losing, but it’s definitely not a replacement.”
While the insurance doesn’t replace the crops, Noel Troxclair, County Extension Agent for Travis County, said it’s the most common way for farmers to receive financial support. Prinz said for him, the insurance will mostly cover seed and fertilizer costs.
“If there was a disaster declared, there could be some federal monies that wouldn’t normally be forthcoming that they’re gaining,” Prinz said. “I don’t really know that that would happen.”
Another resource for farmers is the Livestock Indemnity Program, a federal aid program that provides money based on greater-than-usual livestock deaths caused by adverse weather. The program was also able to disburse loans to producers who were unable to get commercial financing. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agricultural economists’ preliminary data report shows $600 million in agricultural losses from the storm.
Texas markets face long-term challenges
Crop insurance can help farmers replant their produce, but grocery stores and farmers markets face a different challenge. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Communications, the lack of food on shelves during the storm was both a consumer and producer issue, but was different from what people saw in the early stages of the pandemic. David Anderson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist said in the article that the effects were “exacerbated by the electric grid and water problems.”
While Texas experienced shortages in the early stages of the pandemic, the winter storm is a longer-term issue because of how long it will take to replant particular produce and recover livestock.
Despite the significant loss from grocery stores, Troxclair said the farmers’ markets were adversely affected more.
“H-E-B buys vegetables and fruit from all over the world,” Troxclair said. “The grocery stores were probably less adversely affected by the freeze than the local farmers’ markets would have been.”
Texas Farmers Market has two locations in Austin. TFM Lakeline is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and TFM Mueller is open Sundays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Texas Farmers Market offers products from farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers who are selling things that are grown or raised on their property. However, this worked against them after the winter storm.
“Because we work with farmers and ranchers, we knew that this was coming and that it was going to be intense and difficult for our farmers,” said Nora Chovanec, Deputy Director at Texas Farmers’ Market, which is based in Austin.
The week before the storm started, Chovanec called local farmers and producers to check in. As expected, many were preparing their fields and animals for the storm. When the storm finally arrived, the market was still in for a surprise.
“I think a lot of people on that Sunday woke up and realized, ‘Oh my goodness, this storm had just hit,'” Chovanec said.
As local customers stayed home because of icy roads, the market shut down with a larger concern in mind. In Travis County, many farmers travel around 150 miles to get to the market, waking up as early as 4 a.m. to set up by 9 a.m.
“They’re driving in on these country roads that were going to be covered in ice,” Chovanec said. “We made the call before this or even canceled the markets the weekend prior so that everybody’s safe.”
Despite opening back up the following weekend, the market still suffered loss and faced a recovery process. According to Chovanec, March is a critical time in sales for producing farmers. They planned how to regain financial stability as the market waited for fruits and vegetables to be restocked.
“We’re now seeing at our market, produce is going up as some of the things that we normally see coming in, like strawberries,” Chovanec said.
While the market is starting to see a recovery of some vegetables, it empathizes with its partnered farmers who lost months of supply. Chovanec said one of their partner farmers grows “incredible tomatoes” in his greenhouse and began to harvest them in February. The storm took out all his work.
“That was six months of income on his tomatoes that just disappeared in the storm, and there was nothing he could do about it,” Chovanec said.
That’s why Texas Farmers’ Market transformed its Agricultural Producer Support Fund to help those affected recover. The fund is a specific grant that started in 2010 to support farmers during environmental disasters or personal medical hardships, and the group raises money for it by hosting events throughout the year.
“Many of our members can’t just call the insurance company and get reverted for crop damage or the animals,” Chovanec said. “We tried to provide some level of financial assistance that we can give them, a direct interface with the farm.”
Farmers make plans to replant
Chovanec said the market is open and operating. Still, vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbages, and other cold-weather produce won’t come back from the winter storm. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, frost-tolerant vegetables include beet, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, kale, lettuce and onions. Troxclair said that if a field wasn’t cold-tolerant, it took a pretty big hit. After the storm hit, Troxclair explored grain and row crops in Central Texas and saw minor damage in those areas.
“If it was not a cold-tolerant crop, they may have lost a hundred percent,” Troxclair said. “In a way, the recovery is they come back and they plant a warm season, vegetable crop.”
Back on his farm, Prinz pointed to crops out in the field, looking at the hundreds of stalks sticking in the soil. Prinz grabbed the tip of the leaf and began to describe the recovery process.
“This corner here was planted February 7th before the snowstorm,” Prinz said. “We’re about 40 days behind. As this corn here matures and is ready to harvest — say, the end of July — the corn that I planted today won’t mature and be ready until the middle or end of August.”
His recovery process also depends on the rest of the year’s upcoming storms. Travis County and Williamson County experienced three catastrophic hailstorms in March and April, continuing to set farmers back from the winter storm. Those colder weather temperatures that come with the hailstorms are harder on the plants. With the lack of rain and the hot and dry months ahead, Prinz’s corn could have a smaller chance of producing.
“That’s what we’re up against,” Prinz said.
However, Prinz is mindful of his luck so far. The hail wasn’t very widespread in the area near his farm, creating a greater chance of a comeback for his crops.
“The last three weeks, with every storm that has come through, took a bit of people’s crops and done damage from Waco to this area,” Prinz said. “We’ve crossed our fingers as they talk about more severe weather.”