Hurricane Harvey Buffets Industry

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Hurricane Harvey floods
Cars and street inundated by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in a suburb of Houston, Texas

[Editor’s Note: We will continue to update this story as developments unfold.]

Houston, TX – Leaders in the natural and organic products industry are starting to reopen for business after Hurricane Harvey dumped rain forecast to reach more than 50 inches.

The economic impact of the storm, which has caused at least 30 reported deaths and left hundreds of thousands stranded, has yet to be estimated but gas prices are already on the rise.

Offices of Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp. in nearby SugarLand, TX, reopened on Wednesday after closing along with Himalaya Herbal Healthcare. All supermarkets in the region were closed, including the four Whole Foods Market stores in downtown Houston and the two locations of independent health food purveyor Betsy’s.

Aker BioMarine closed its lone krill oil processing facility on Friday as a precautionary measure.

“The top priority in this situation is always the safety of our employees and their families,” the company said in a statement. “Apart from some minor leaks due to heavy rain, there is no damage to the plant. We have enough safety stock to manage the supply to our customers.”

Over in Baton Rouge, LA, meanwhile, the Louisiana State University Ag Center was assessing the situation, said Carl Motsenbocker, professor of horticulture and sustainable agriculture. He’s heard reports of potential cattle drownings due to the flooding.

“We don’t have many certified organic growers in the state of Louisiana,” Motsenbocker told WholeFoods. “There are small-scale farmers, some of my students, who are growing using organic practices but are not certified.

“It’s not a good situation,” Motsenbocker added. “The roads being damaged will disrupt production and the supply chain.”

Patrick Lillard, VP of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association based in Waco, said Texas similarly has few certified growers with most of them farming cotton and grain in the panhandle of the state, which is likely to be unaffected.

“Local growers and certified organic rice producers are the ones who will be affected,” he said. As in Louisiana, the region has many growers who use organic practices such as Glen Miracle at the 21-acre Laughing Frog Farm in Hempstead, TX, and serve the local urban market. Hempstead is in the Woodlands-SugarLand metro area surrounding Houston.

Miracle told WholeFoods he’s lost at least a week’s worth of income but is lucky compared to friends in low-lying regions who will have to replant and will be out of commission for at least 12 weeks.

“Everybody’s still in a state of shock,” he said. “We’ve had 40 inches of rain based on our gauges. But our 500 chickens all survived. I don’t know how many thousands of plants are in the ground. They’re looking a little beat up, but so am I.”

Because his property is 270 feet above sea level, and he’s been developing a flood control program, Miracle’s “perma-culture farm” will be back in business next week. “Of all the people I know down here who farm sustainably, we were probably affected the least. Many of my friends are at the 50 feet level.”

There were 178 certified organic farms in the state in 2016 and for every one probably five to 10 more that use sustainable practices , said Mike Morris, director of the National Center for Appropriate Technology Southwest Regional Office in San Antonio. TX.

“We’re all still trying to wrap our head around what Harvey has really done. It will take a few weeks,” Morris added.

Morris emphasized contacting USDA and FEMA and start keeping copious photographic records and notes before cleaning anything up. He said insurance for whole crop loss was only introduced in 2014 and less than 20 policies were issued in 2017.

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Published on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 8/29/17

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