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North Carolina Ag Losses From Florence Soar to $2.4 Billion

Governor Roy Cooper earmarked $235 million for agriculture out of a proposed $1.5 billion in state spending for recovery from Hurricane Florence “and future storm resiliency” on Wednesday. The governor’s office estimated the state’s agricultural losses at $2.4 billion, more than double the previous estimate, and asked for $75 million in resiliency funds to buy out hog farmers and shut down manure lagoons in lowlands.

Hurricane Florence caused almost $13 billion in damage after it came ashore on September 14, more than double the losses inflicted by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. “From this devastation, we must seize the opportunity to rebuild smarter and stronger,” said Cooper.

Cooper unveiled his recovery plan on the same day that Hurricane Michael reached the Florida Panhandle, with predictions the storm could travel across the Carolinas on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Field crops, led by flue-cured tobacco, soybeans, sweet potatoes, corn, and cotton, account for the lion’s share of agricultural losses, although the state’s estimate included forestry and fishery losses and damage to farm buildings, equipment, and infrastructure. Disposal of dead livestock alone is expected to cost $20 million.

With 6,500 industrial-scale hog, poultry, and dairy farms, North Carolina is the No. 2 hog-producing state and the No. 3 state in poultry. Environmentalists have argued for years that the large livestock farms, built mostly in the eastern half of the state, are vulnerable to flooding, which could release millions of gallons of raw manure from the pond-like lagoons located on hog farms. The state Department of Environmental Quality said 43 lagoons were flooded or overflowing as of Tuesday, with 47 lagoons at risk of overflowing. Six lagoons had structural damage. There are roughly 3,700 open-topped manure lagoons in the state.

“These estimates of lagoons with structural damage are likely to increase after DEQ completes physical inspections,” said Cooper’s office in a 77-page report on the hurricane. Cooper asked for $75 million “to expand the voluntary buyout program for swine operations and the voluntary lagoon conversion program. Buyout eligibility will be expanded to include operations in the 500-year floodplain. Funds may be used to relocate operations outside of the floodplain. Grants may be awarded to farmers and third parties to convert from open lagoons to environmentally superior technologies.”

“The governor’s recommendation to increase funding for buyouts of houses and farms in flood-prone areas is a good start for helping North Carolina communities recover,” said the Environmental Defense Fund. “But policymakers must consider the full suite of potential solutions, including much-needed investments in natural infrastructure, and pursue the most cost-effective options that can be deployed rapidly to reduce risks for communities in the near- and long-term.”

The bulk of the agricultural recovery money would go into a $200-million recovery and reinvestment program. Grants could be used to cover uninsured or underinsured crop, livestock, and aquaculture losses, as well as land restoration, lagoon management, and the purchase of hay for livestock.

Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, is the benchmark for hurricane damage to livestock farms in North Carolina. The storm killed 21,000 hogs and flooded 55 lagoons. To prevent that scale of damage again, the state spent $28 million over the years to close 103 hog lagoons located on the floodplain. Hurricane Florence killed 3.5 million poultry and 5,500 hogs.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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