Southeastern North Carolina took a direct punch from Hurricane Florence, and that’s where the most heartbreaking and devastating losses are for farmers from the storm.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture puts initial estimates for crop and livestock losses from Hurricane Florence at more than $1.1 billion, significantly greater than the $400 million losses seen following Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
“We knew the losses would be significant because it was harvest time for so many of our major crops and the storm hit our top six agricultural counties especially hard,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
Row crop losses are estimated at $986.6 million, according to NCDA.
For cotton, North Carolina State Extension agronomist Dr. Guy Collins says losses and damages are mixed; it depends on where you are in the state. Southeastern North Carolina farmers are the hardest hit.
Collins says early rough estimates following Florence indicate 25 to 30 percent of North Carolina’s cotton crop has been lost.
Collins points to Highway 264 that runs from just east of Raleigh through Wilson and Greenville to the Blacklands as a marker. “Anything above that line was progressively better and better as you go north,” Collins said.
Cotton losses were relatively minimal in northeastern North Carolina, while damage was progressively worse as you go south. “Anything below Highway 264 — that’s the southeastern region — it got progressively worse and you did not have to go far below to see it get bad,” he said.
Southeastern North Carolina is where the heaviest winds and most significant rainfall occurred. “In that region, it was quite devastating. Depending on where you are, it is a total loss in that area,” Collins said.
Other parts of the state fared better.
Farmers in the Piedmont region who grow cotton on rolling hills should be okay with some cotton blown to the ground, but not terrible losses. However, Collins says Piedmont farmers who grow cotton near a creek or river that flooded will likely see complete losses.
“The Blacklands is our most variable region,” Collins said. “If you were close to the shoreline you had storm surge to worry about and the significant flooding that comes with it. But a little farther inland there was not as much rain and the soil could drain so losses are minimal. But if you were close to the Sound, you did have storm surge problems. Those growers really experienced a nightmare.”
“In the northeast, we still have a really good chance for a decent crop. Some folks may have lost a few pounds from early planted cotton with some lint falling down on the ground, but nothing that significant. In the southeast, it’s bad,” Collins said.
Peanuts seemed to have fared better than cotton across North Carolina. North Carolina State University Extension Peanut Specialist David Jordan says losses will be minimal. He estimates total losses at just 2 percent.
“Peanuts just don’t blow around and much of the crop was still a week or more from optimum maturity. That really helped,” Jordan said.
While overall losses will be relatively low across North Carolina, Jordan says it will be catastrophic for individual farmers, particularly in southeastern North Carolina.
Rain was heaviest in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. Jordan notes than more than 20 inches of rain was recorded at the Whiteville weather station that is associated with the Border Belt Tobacco Research Station. Other areas received more modest amounts of rain.
“The excessive rain was able to run off of many fields without ponding in part because of dry conditions for the previous three weeks prior to the storm. However, farms closer to major watersheds have experienced rising flood waters and back movement into many fields,” Jordan explains in an Extension notice.
Jordan points out that peanut acreage is spread throughout North Carolina’s Coastal Plain which reduced the potential negative impact. In fact, rainfall in the northern portion of the Upper Coastal Plain was beneficial to some farmers because soil had become dry prior to the storm and peanuts would have been difficult to dig.
“While the storm has been devastating for some people in the V-C (Virginia-Carolina) region, from a peanut perspective in the mid to upper V-C region, a storm occurring in mid-September is potentially less damaging than a storm occurring in late September or early October (Hurricane Matthew in 2016),” Jordan explains.
Jordan estimates the yield potential in the Virginia-Carolina region to be down this year at 3,700 pounds per acre due to a combination of early- and mid-season stress, dry conditions in August
and early September in some areas, and excessive rain and flooding from Hurricane Florence.
However, he cautions that poor weather conditions and field challenges in October could lower this estimate significantly. “Near perfect conditions are needed to realize this projected yield,” he said.
As for soybeans, North Carolina State University Extension Soybean Specialist Rachel Vann says both North Carolina State and the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association estimate yield losses between 10 to 25 percent.
“There have been quality impacts for sure in the soybeans that were ready to harvest/close to ready when the hurricane rolled through,” Vann said. “We have reports of pod splitting and seed sprouting in the pods in places.”