Farmers across the US stand to lose following record flooding in Texas

Key Points
  • Hurricane Harvey has threatened Texas' agricultural economy and will likely have devastating effects on farmers in the area and around the U.S.
  • While about 98 percent of the cotton in the Corpus Christi area had been harvested, that doesn't mean that the crop is safe from contamination by flooding.
  • Any supplies that were shipped to the area from other parts of the country and are slated to be exported from the Texas Gulf are also at risk for contamination.
Harvey's impact on the trucking industry

Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey has left Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana underwater this week, with areas in the region expected to see a year's worth of rainfall before the storm dissipates on Thursday.

The deluge has threatened Texas' agricultural economy and will likely have devastating effects on farmers not only in the area but around the U.S.

"I can't think of a crop that is designed to handle four feet of rain in a short period of time," Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told CNBC.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration warned that crops exposed to flood waters should not be eaten and should be disposed of instead.

"Grains and similar products stored in bulk can also be damaged by flood waters. These flood damaged products should not be used for human and animal food," the FDA said in statement.

The Lone Star state produces high volumes of cotton, wheat, rice and soy and is a large exporter of crops from around the country. As floodwaters continue to rise, so too does the risk of damage to unharvested produce and stored crops.

While about 70 percent of Texas' rice harvest was complete by Aug. 20, the same can't be said for the state's cotton harvest.

"The cotton crop in this area of Texas is the biggest and most beautiful that anyone can remember in years, and probably two-thirds of it is still in the fields," Michael Klein, a spokesman for the USA Rice Federation, told CNBC Friday. "It's going to be disastrous for them."

The second-largest area for cotton production in Texas is in Corpus Christi, a coastal city about 200 miles from Houston, Gene Hall, director of communications for the Texas Farm Bureau, told CNBC.

"There was a bumper crop of cotton," he said. "The Corpus Christi classing office has recently upgraded their estimate to a 2 million bale crop and that's not going to happen."

Hall said that about 98 percent of the cotton in the area had been harvested, but unfortunately that doesn't mean the crop is safe from the storm.

Farmers in the area use cotton modules to pound the crop into large rectangular blocks. These blocks are then covered with a secured tarp and left out in the fields until there is room for the crop at the gin. These bundles are susceptible to wind and saturation damage from the storm.

"I don't know how many farmers were able to move those out of harms way," Hall said. "But I know a lot were left in the field."

As for the rest of the cotton left in the field, Hall said that "anything on the stalk is a near total loss."

And cotton isn't the only crop that could be in danger of being contaminated by storm water. Hall said that any corn crop that was harvested is at risk if the storage areas flood.

"When that happens that water just travels right up that stored grain like a wick on a lantern," Hall said.

Additionally, any supplies that were shipped to the area from other parts of the country and are slated to be exported from the Texas Gulf are at risk for contamination. Some 24 percent of the wheat crop in the United States is shipped through that part of the country, according to Steenhoek.

Until the storm passes, they will not be able to assess the structural integrity of railroad tracks or bridges, Steenhoek said. And because of these transportation issues, grain elevator operators, which will have reached capacity, will discourage farmers from delivering crops by lowering the commodity prices that farmers are usually paid, he said.

"A lot of wheat is grown in Kansas and Oklahoma, Illinois, so here's a situation where an event that is occurring 700 to 1,000 miles from where wheat is grown will actually have an impact on the individual profitability of the farmer," Steenhoek said.

WATCH: Health care, food contamination big concerns after Harvey

Health care, food contamination big concerns in Harvey aftermath