The flood waters haven’t receded yet, but initial reports show that North Carolina’s agriculture industries took a beating from Hurricane Matthew. State agriculture officials do not have damage estimates, but the 48 counties affected by the storm are some of North Carolina’s largest agricultural counties.
“The eastern counties represent 71% of the state’s total farm cash receipts,” agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler said. “While lots of crops were harvested before the storm, many crops, such as soybeans, sweet potatoes, peanuts and cotton, were just in the early stages of harvest.”
The 48 counties accounted for more than $9.6 billion of the $13.5 billion in farm cash receipts in 2014.
In addition to crops, eastern North Carolina also has large poultry and swine populations. Initial reports show that 1.9 million birds, mostly broiler chickens, have died as a result of the storm. However, considering the extent of the flooding, state veterinarian Doug Meckes expects that number to rise. North Carolina growers raise more than 800 million birds each year.
The National Pork Producers Council reported Oct. 14 that fewer than 3,000 pigs had perished from among North Carolina's more than 2,100 permitted hog farms.
An estimated 11 lagoons in North Carolina have been inundated with flood waters, meaning a small portion of heavily diluted effluent has been washed out of them. This compares to 50 that were inundated during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the pork council noted.
Veterinary officials and staff in the department’s Environmental Programs Division are working with growers on proper disposal of the birds. Troxler requested and was granted a $6 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase carbon material to compost the carcasses and mitigate the potential public health risk. Composting is the preferred method of disposal as it reduces leeching of farm waste, reduces pest and disease issues and prevents odor issues. The finished compost can then be used for agricultural purposes. Farms have been requesting carbon materials, and deliveries began today.
The North Carolina hog industry did a good job preparing for the event by taking proactive measures to reduce populations or move hogs to higher ground. There have been limited reports of swine deaths and no known hog lagoon breaches.
“The industry learned a lot since Hurricane Floyd in 1999,” Troxler noted. “Many hog farms in the 100-year flood plain were closed through a swine buyout program overseen by our Soil & Water Conservation Division.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory called the situation a “terrible tragedy” for farmers.
“Our prayers are also with the ag community. They are going through tremendous loss right now in the poultry business, hogs and also all of the farmers — the peanut farmers, the cotton farmers, sweet potato farmers. We’re going to really get a big economic loss regarding this terrible hurricane,” McCrory added.
Agricultural officials from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDOA), Clemson University, South Carolina Farm Bureau, Farm Credit and U.S. Department of Agriculture are working together to get an estimate of the scope of agricultural damage left in the wake of the hurricane.
Early estimates for South Carolina indicate a significant loss of the cotton crop and moderate soybean crop losses.
“Many farmers were able to harvest peanuts before the storm hit, but seven of 12 peanut buying points are without power, so storage could soon become an issue,” SCDOA reported. “High-value fall fruits and vegetables saw an initial harvest, but subsequent harvests will be impacted.”
The South Carolina poultry sector has reported mortalities of approximately 203,000 birds. SCDOA said many farms are still without electricity and are relying on generators to power the chicken houses.
“Farmers are facing very similar challenges to last October’s flooding, and this natural disaster will be another significant setback to our state’s number-one industry,” South Carolina agriculture commissioner Hugh Weathers said. “We are working diligently to ensure the needs of the farming community are heard in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.”