From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Just last month I wrote in this column about how much I look forward to spring and the beginning of the growing season. With the unseasonably warm weather we were having in mid-March, I guess I was being optimistic that we had put winter behind us.
Truth is, I couldn’t have been more wrong, as evidenced by the Easter weekend freeze that set new record-low temperatures for the state and brought devastating damage to fruit, vegetable and nursery crops.
Although initial damage estimates from the freeze totaled nearly $112 million, we are continuing to assess the situation to determine if there will be longer-term damage done to trees and plants. This is a very real possibility, but we’ll have to wait and see.
As of press time, we have had reports of about $58 million in damage to nursery stock, $26.5 million to fruits and vegetables, $12 million in damage to corn and around $12 million to wheat and other small grains.
It is important to remember these are initial estimates and could go up or down as more information is gathered. Some of the freeze damage might not be evident for several more weeks or even months from now.
Shortly after the freeze, we heard from farmers from one end of the state to the other about the type of problems they were having with their crops. Initially we were concerned strawberries would be hit hard because they were coming in a bit earlier than normal, but while there was damage, overall they seemed to have fared much better than our state’s peach, blueberry, apple, small grains and nursery crops.
Still, reports from Western North Carolina indicate damage to strawberries in the mountain areas was far worse than in the coastal areas, including reports of 70 to 90 percent losses for some farms.
A number of apple and peach producers reported 90 to 100 percent loss of their crops, and reports of blueberry damage ranged from moderate to severe depending on whether farmers could spray plants with water to insulate them. Several apple growers have indicated this loss will mean 18 months without income from their crop.
Dry winter weather also had an impact on the crops as some farmers saw irrigation ponds dry up before the cold weather moved out of the state, severely limiting their ability to insulate crops with water.
Many growers have described the situation as a perfect set of conditions for an agricultural disaster.
To add insult to injury, we heard reports that strong winds that blew through the state April 16 toppled or snapped a number of apple trees in the mountains. Reports are still coming in at press time, but no figures for damage estimates have been reported at this time.
North Carolina farmers were not alone in crop losses, with much of the Southeast experiencing similar situations. I have been in contact with my counterparts in the Southeast to determine the extent of the overall regional damage in the event federal assistance becomes available.
I have also assembled a group within the department to assess the overall damage, determine where the damage is located in the state and see what amount of losses was insured or uninsured.
We want to be sure we have the most accurate assessment we can of the damage, so whatever steps are necessary next, we will have the best information to move forward in making requests on behalf of the agricultural community.
In North Carolina, we are familiar with agricultural losses due to natural disasters, but these typically come in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding. Losses due to late spring freezes have been more rare.
To put this event in perspective, estimated losses from this freeze will exceed the total losses of more than $111 million from hurricanes Bonnie, Charlie and Frances combined in 2004.
I ask you to keep our farmers in our prayers and thoughts as they seek to recover from this devastating natural disaster.