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North Carolina Preps for a Hurricane
In June 1999, I started working as an Extension agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Three months later, Tropical Storm Dennis dropped 6 to 16 inches of rain across eastern North Carolina. Ten days later, Hurricane Floyd drenched the state, adding another 12 to 20 inches of rain.
I was working my first job since graduating college and this was my first hurricane as part of the agriculture community. I remember how quickly farmers across the state and country came together to help each other. Two of the cattle farmers I worked with had farms along the river, and both flooded. Their cattle were left stranded on islands of high ground with no pasture. Farmers from other parts of the state donated hay, trucked it to the farms in need and unloaded it, essentially saving those animals.
We learned a great deal from Hurricane Floyd. In the 20 years since, hurricane preparation has improved. As Hurricane Dorian heads to the Tarheel State, farmers are ready. This isn’t our first rodeo.
On our farm, we have corn, tobacco, soybeans and sweet potatoes in the field. With reports of the storm strengthening, we, like many farmers, decided to start picking corn. In some cases, the corn’s moisture content was too high, which means we take a deduction at the grain mill. But that deduction is better than losing the entire crop. We invested in grain bins several years ago, so we can dry high-moisture corn before it’s sold.
Soybeans aren’t ready to pick. We've dug some of our sweet potatoes. Those still in the field could be flooded by overflowing creeks or other bodies of water. We’ll have to wait until after the storm to asses any damage to those crops.
Last year, Hurricane Florence devastated our tobacco. Then, like now, we were harvesting the top leaves, which are the highest quality and bring the most money at market. With Dorian approaching, we had to make a choice. We could decide to keep cropping (harvesting) tobacco and putting it in barns to cure, taking a chance we won’t lose power. Or, we could stop barning and leave it in the field, taking a chance the wind won’t bruise leaves or blow them off. Crop insurance won’t cover tobacco inside a curing barn, so if we lose power for any length of time, the leaves in those barns will be a total loss. Do we take the risk? With over 50 barns full of tobacco, that’s a potential loss hard for any farm to handle.
We don’t have any livestock, but many of our friends do. They don’t start preparing for a hurricane when the storm is named; rather livestock farmers prepare all year long. Before the storm, they set up command centers with live updates as weather conditions change before, during, and after the storm. When possible, animals are moved to higher ground. Extra feed is brought in. Generators are checked. After Hurricane Florence, many farm homes didn’t have power, but their livestock barns did, because that’s where the generators were running.
We’re as prepared as we can be. We’re tuned in to the weather reports and are monitoring the storm. We’ve weathered them before. And after, we will come together as an agriculture community to help those affected. We’re Farmer Strong.