Farmers, officials weigh in on aftermath of Florence
A Duplin County farmer looks over his drenched field following Hurricane Florence - Photo by Smith Hardy (SmithHardy.com)/special to Neuse News
The pulse of rural communities in Eastern North Carolina is agriculture, be it crops or livestock. As vibrant as these local industries are, flooding caused by Hurricane Florence has proven to be a disruptive force.
A report by North Carolina 4th District State Rep. Jimmy Dixon detailing the agricultural losses suffered by farmers was submitted to Neuse News over the weekend.
The report states fewer than 6,000 hogs were lost as most farmers were able to evacuate their animals before the storm hit. Most of those losses were due to sudden, flash flooding. Totals for turkeys lost come in under 20,000.
National media coverage of Hurricane Florence has alluded to the loss of over three million chickens in NC, and that number represents about one percent of statewide chicken production in a year. To an individual farmer, those numbers can be devastating.
Jack Davis is a farmer in Lenoir County who grows tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat, and other crops.
“This has been a hard year for a lot of us,” Davis said. “The storms have taken a toll. The drought earlier this year put a lot of us in a bind. Just about everybody (who is a farmer) has been affected in one way or another.”
“(As for) tobacco, there were a lot of people like us that lost a lot of their crop. The farmers who grew corn that didn’t get picked (due to the hurricane) lost it all. Cotton is going to take a hit. Most of the soybeans could have been drowned.”
Among the biggest issues for local farmers is the loss of animal feed.
“A lot of the animal feed has been flooded out locally,” said Eve Honeycutt, an extension livestock agent for the Cooperative Extension of Greene and Lenoir Counties. “One of the biggest issues was flash flooding. Most people weren’t prepared for it. A lot of the hay is wet and will spoil. Much more is going to rot in the flood water.”
“The cattle need hay right now. They have nothing to eat right now and they will need food to get through the winter. We have farmers in the west that are trying to help out. There has been such an outpouring of donations from the western part of the state to help our farmers here make it through the winter. The problem is with the flash flooding, many trucks can’t get here because so many roads have been closed.”
Joey Carter is the president of the Duplin County Cattlemen’s Association. On Saturday, he was in Jones County touring areas impacted by Florence. He echoed Honeycutt’s sentiments.
“Our feed has been down because of the dry weather and now the hurricane has just added to the problems,” Carter said. “Lots of farmers are in the same boat. We knew it was going to be bad, but we didn’t know it was going to be this bad. We are trying to find hay and get it to the farmers.”
“Most of the hay that has been stored is not good anymore. We hope we will be able to plant some hay in time for winter. If that is the case, we hope to get one more decent cut in. But even that might not be enough. This is the time of year we need to start the fall planting for the winter time.”
“We’re waiting to get those numbers from the industry, but we know we lost a lot of livestock,” said NC House Majority Leader John Bell. “Our farmers were prepared, but the big issue was the size of the storm. When you talk about the sheer size of it and how slow it was moving, it took three days to move out of Eastern (North) Carolina. Farmers were trying to preserve their livestock but also the environment.”
“We’ve been able to hand out farming supplies, fencing, tools, and any feed we have,” Honeycutt said. “Most of the impact has been in Duplin County, Jones County, and points south.”
The Cooperative Extension has set up distribution sites in Pink Hill, Jacksonville, Kenansville, Wallace, Holly Ridge, and Clinton.
With the waters still high, a lot of the damage is still left to be seen.
“A lot of people have been displaced or they can’t get to their animals yet,” Carter said. “We are trying to disperse some of the hay we have to help our farmers. Many don’t know where their animals are or how many they’ve lost.”
While recovering, Carter offered some advice for those who need help.
“For our farmers, their local Farm Service Agency office is the best place start,” Carter said. “Take pictures and document what you have and show what your losses are. A lot of farmers haven’t fully recovered from Matthew either. But you know what, we’re resilient people and we will get through this.”
“It’s going to depend on each individual circumstance,” Davis said. “Everyone is different in their finances. Truthfully, you need to let all the crops come in and get totaled up before you can get (an idea of) how bad it really is. It is going to take a lot of patience and hard work. We will need a lot of help from financial institutions to restructure. We will need some good years. This, honestly, could take years to recover (from).”
“We have had two hurricanes like this in just a few years,” Bell said. “We’re looking at some pieces of legislation coming up to provide some relief. There are lots of people who have livestock, crops, and nurseries that will need our help. We will have to assess what we lost and what we have. We also need to move on getting federal funding before Congress goes to recess.”