AMARILLO Close examination is taking place to determine what is needed to protect the region’s approximate $5.7 billion agriculture industry and prepare for a disaster, whether caused by terrorism or from Mother Nature.
Private industry, higher education and government agencies are working to build a Panhandle Agro-Security Plan, in conjunction with the state’s Foreign and Emerging Animal Disease Response Plan developed by the Texas Animal Health Commission.
That the cattle feeding industry in the Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico region is the largest in the world is no secret, said Dr. Bob DeOtte, coordinator of the Panhandle Agro-Security Working Group and West Texas A&M University environmental engineer. Neither is the fact that the dairy industry is growing and an established swine industry also exists here.
Less known may be the efforts of a partnership working to establish voluntary plans to protect these vital livestock industries, DeOtte said.
The working group consists of officials with West Texas A&M, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Texas Department of State Homeland Security, agriculture industry, regional law enforcement, emergency management, and county and city governments.
What is needed now is a further look at the finer details of planning for a disaster, whether natural or man-made, DeOtte said.
“There have been many well-known disasters and after them all, someone says I should have thought of that’,” he said. “This group’s job is to try to determine in advance what are the critical areas that still need addressing.”
The strong relationships already developed facilitates this process, DeOtte said.
DeOtte attributed the origin of the working group to a statement made by Dr. John Sweeten, Experiment Station resident director in Amarillo.
“While we don’t have funding, we all have intellectual capital and we can direct our personnel to contribute to this effort,” Sweeten said.
Walt Kelley, emergency management coordinator for Amarillo/Potter and Randall counties, said agriculture had been taken for granted previously.
“There have been minor disasters that involved agriculture droughts, storms but widespread or catastrophic disasters were not on anyone’s plate to look at,” Kelley said.
That changed somewhat with the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom, he said.
“Considering 40 percent of the nation’s beef is around the Panhandle, anything that could affect that is catastrophic,” Kelley said. “A foreign animal disease, whether naturally occurring or a terrorist event, would be catastrophic to this region economically.”
Now steps have to be taken between the agricultural community, local government and emergency management to attempt to mitigate the problem before it occurs.
“I think this group is the first time since I’ve been around that we’ve brought in so many different elements to play,” Kelley said. “It allows everyone to look at a potential agricultural disaster from their standpoint and then bring it to the table so we can come together with an overall plan.”
For example, he said, for years cattle feeders have had disaster plans in place for feed yards, but have never looked at the overall picture and what other resources or entities will come into play and how they will have to react with them.
“You could say the pieces of puzzle are being put together in a unified coordinated plan,” Kelley said.