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'It's Going To Impact Thousands Of Jobs': Winter Freeze Devastates Farmers In Texas

A view of a picked field after yellow onions were harvested in 2007 in Rio Grande City, Texas. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
A view of a picked field after yellow onions were harvested in 2007 in Rio Grande City, Texas. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

The brutal winter storm in Texas ravaged many farmers’ crops across the state.

Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association, says the damage induces more headaches for farmers who have struggled through the past year. Farmers are contending with the pandemic, then Hurricane Hanna hit in July. And last fall, drought-like conditions caused water limitations.

“And boom, they’re hit by a freeze,” Galeazzi says. “The last time we had a freeze like this was 1989. So there was no way of knowing or seeing this until four days before it happened.”

At first, half of the crops including cilantro and broccoli were drooped over. But as the cold temperatures continued to plummet, the plants were completely on the ground. For Galeazzi, that’s a terrible sign.

Galeazzi says he’s heard from farmers who are trying to salvage what they can. The dilemma they face is whether to continue to pick what they have and ship it out or take the loss.

Replanting crops isn’t an option at this point in the season. Once April arrives, Galeazzi says they’ll start experiencing 100-degree heat, which would be too hot for any young plants to thrive.

“We’re beyond the replanting,” he says.

Farmers aren’t the only ones affected by the storm. Workers in the fields, warehouses, packing facilities and supply chains are all impacted, he says. Without the product, there’s no work to do.

Texas consumers and people throughout the Midwest will likely experience additional costs when it comes to grocery store prices, too, because stores will have to stock their shelves with products from a different growing region, Galeazzi says.

“Someone’s going to have to pay for them,” he says. “That someone usually ends up being the American consumer.”

While insurance for the crops would help in the midst of this kind of crisis, there’s only two vegetable crops grown in Texas that insurance covers.

“Unfortunately, what we’re going to be having to ask our friends in [Washington,] D.C., for is some sort of direct payment or assistance program, because really it’s going to be all about getting these farmers some sort of financing or funds,” Galeazzi says. “That way they can put the next crop in the ground and have a chance.”

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayJeannette Jones adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.