By Gaige Davila
Winter Storm Uri’s damage seems to be long gone, but anyone driving on FM 510 towards San Benito has seen otherwise.
Countless groves of citrus trees in Bayview died in the aftermath of a storm that brought Laguna Madre area temperatures below freezing. With spring here, the usually green groves are now every shade of gray.
“It’s been a disaster,” Gary Paris, the Mayor of Bayview told the PRESS. “A finger of death has touched everything in Bayview.”
Paris has told Bayview residents and commercial growers to report their damages to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in hopes of receiving emergency loans to make up for the lost crops.
This is the second consecutive year the community has endured a crop loss, after last year’s Mexican fruit fly infestation.
Jeneria Lewis, Alderman Place 2 for the Town of Bayview, has had her personal orchard and her mother’s citrus groves devastated by the freeze.
“All the fruit is destroyed, it’s not even juiceable,” Lewis said, referring to how surviving fruit from damaged crops can be juiced to make income off of when the fruit cannot be sold whole.
Since moving to Bayview in 2003, the freeze-caused damage is the worst she has seen.
But the damage the winter storm inflicted is more than just having thousands of dead trees to clean up after.
Fruits that have dropped from the now-dead trees could attract Mexican fruit flies back to Bayview. Cleaning and replanting the groves will be expensive, which is why she has begun sharing assistance information from the USDA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Native trees who have survived for years but died in the winter storm are not lost forever. Farmers needing to replace their trees may have limited options, as competition to purchase them becomes tighter.
“There’s a lot of valuable, old trees here with special fruits, like Pomelos, which is the original grapefruit (tree), there’s a lot of amazing stuff here that’s lost,” Lewis said. “Whatever we replace will probably be homogeneous, we’ll all have the same trees.”
Bayview residents attempted to save their trees by wrapping their bases, only for the severe winds to blow them off.
Lewis said that the damage is not limited to citrus groves: several palm tree varieties, like the foxtail palm trees, have also died or been damaged. Texas sabal and Washingtonian varieties survived.
“The greenest thing we have here right now is our swimming pool,” Lewis said, referring to the algae growth.
Cameron County was included in the USDA’s disaster declaration, along with Starr, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. The designation makes low-interest emergency loans available to growers who have lost crops from the freeze.
Commercial growers and residents must self-report the damage to their crops to the USDA Service Center, which is located in San Benito. From there, ochadists and nursery tree growers are eligible for cost-share assistance through the Tree Assistance Program to replant or rehabilitate trees lost during the storm.
Also available is the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which covers lost crops but not plants and trees.
“Producers who have risk protection through Federal Crop Insurance or FSA’s NAP should report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or FSA office,” USDA’s website reads. “If they have crop insurance, producers should report crop damage to their agent within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. For NAP covered crops, a Notice of Loss (CCC-576) must be filed within 15 days of the loss becoming apparent, except for hand-harvested crops, which should be reported within 72 hours.”