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Texas Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc On Farmers

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It has been an awful time for millions of Texans - record cold, power outages, boil-water notices on top of the pandemic. Ranchers and farmers who help supply the nation's food have raced to keep their animals and crops alive, as Stella Chavez reports from member station KERA.

STELLA CHAVEZ, BYLINE: As snow fell and temperatures plunged, most Texans hunkered down indoors - not Faith and Bill Ellis, though. They bundled up and hopped on their tractor, which doubled as a snowplow.

FAITH ELLIS: We are headed out to feed these cattle.

CHAVEZ: That was Wednesday. The next day, they were back out on their 80-acre farm, a couple of hours northeast of Dallas. They plowed through two-foot snowdrifts to check on their 25 head of cattle, plus pens of chickens and rabbits. They also grow mustard and collard greens, cabbage and carrots. When bad weather hits, that means more work.

ELLIS: It's a constant, almost around-the-clock thing. When we finally come in, right when the sun goes down, we're exhausted because we've been out two to three times during the day, trudging through, you know, two feet of snow, trying to make sure that produce and animals are taken care of.

CHAVEZ: Ellis and other Texas farmers say it's too early to know the full extent of crop damage. They'll have to wait till things thaw out. All of their animals made it through the storm. Ellis worked to harden their cattle for this weather. Plenty of food, plus their coats, help them retain heat. One complication - this all hit in the middle of calving season.

ELLIS: The calves are, you know, being born. And they're wet, and they've got to get them warm. So that's our biggest concern. And for those, we will bring up closer to the barn and then open the barn for the mothers and their babies to get in.

CHAVEZ: Three hours southwest, outside Waxahachie, John Paul Dineen and his wife Heather farm 700 acres. They raise cattle and pigs and grow wheat, corn and milo.

JOHN PAUL DINEEN: We woke up, you know, at zero degrees. We've been seven days below 32. The fuel in our equipment has gelled. We did not have additive in there to keep that from happening because that's never happened to us before.

CHAVEZ: That meant he couldn't start his tractors for two days. What really threw them was the power cycling off and on.

DINEEN: Those things really throw a kink in things because you have, you know, heat lamps trying to keep pipes warm, heaters trying to keep equipment warm. When you don't have consistent electricity, then you can't have that stuff to where you can start it up. And it has really been an awakening for us.

CHAVEZ: Earlier in the week, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller told Fox News Business he was worried about the food supply chain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SID MILLER: The shelves are bare in our grocery stores above any dairy products. We've got poultry producers that are suffering. It's unexcusable (ph) the situation we're in.

CHAVEZ: John Paul Dineen says he's talked to farmers across the state. Some lost citrus crops in the Rio Grande Valley. Others had cattle challenges.

DINEEN: We do have friends that have had calves lose ears because of frostbite. We have had one friend that has lost 10% of their calf crop because of the bitter cold.

CHAVEZ: He wants people to keep this in mind if the next time they're at the grocery store, they see the meat counter or dairy shelves not fully stocked.

For NPR News, I'm Stella Chavez in Waxahachie, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.