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North Carolina Farmers Face Huge Losses in Wake of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew swept by North Carolina on October 9, causing “impacts to agriculture that will be here for a while,” said North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services public affairs director Brian Long. It is too early to assess the total damage, but farmers across the state are hurting.

When Hurricane Matthew hit, it dumped more rain than expected west of the forecast, drenching already saturated soils. Heavy rains in late September prevented farmers from harvesting crops before Matthew arrived.

“Crops that were left in the ground during the storm, such as cotton, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and peanuts are in trouble,” said Long. “Typically, these crops are harvested right now, however most are still submerged, and farmers can’t harvest them quickly.” Farmers hope to salvage some crops left in the ground, but waters have been slow to recede, affecting crop quality.

Collectively, North Carolina farmers could potentially face millions of dollars in loss. Department officials will begin damage assessments as the flooding subsides, but the damage appears to be devastating and widespread. Farmers are in for a long and grueling recovery process. 

“We are readying resources for any animal losses, whether that be birds, swine, or cattle,” said Long. “With limited access to roads, we have to figure out how to get resources to farms and ultimately minimize impact.”

North Carolina Governor Steve Troxler has taken two aerial assessments of the flooding, reporting that what he saw is potentially catastrophic to farms, said Long. What’s more, farmers are experiencing personal losses as the flooding reaches their homes. 

Youth across the state have prepared projects for the North Carolina State Fair, which opened today despite flooding. Long is expecting fewer exhibitors in the competitive exhibits from horticulture to livestock shows; many exhibitors are dealing with flooding at home and likely can’t make it to this year’s state fair.

Millions of livestock are dead in the floodwater due to the extreme flooding in eastern North Carolina, where the state has more hogs than people. Fortunately, Long said there have been no confirmed swine losses since swine confinements are typically on a hill. However, several farmers reported flooded poultry houses, with loss of flocks. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has confirmed 1.8 million poultry have died, primarily chickens. Long said the total is likely to increase. 

Jimmy Pollock, production manager for J.C. Howard in Deep Run, North Carolina, said cleanup from Hurricane Matthew is “hectic and stressful.” The company owns 25,000 sows. “We are scattered in a lot of directions trying to get feed made and delivered, and pigs moved. We haven’t had any major hiccups as far as animal welfare problems, and we are thankful for that. This flooding is a real issue. We got everything to high ground, but it took 48 hours to make that happen.”

Although farmers have weathered the storm, they aren’t in the clear yet. The flooding is still present; many rivers aren’t expected to crest until today or tomorrow. Once waters recede, cleanup starts, which will reveal just how devastating Hurricane Matthew was in North Carolina. 

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