From the Tractor: Flooding from Hurricane Matthew devastates Eastern North Carolina
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
For too many of our farmers in Eastern North Carolina, fall has changed from one of optimism to one of loss. First Tropical Storm Hermine brushed the northeastern corner of the state, causing significant flooding and problems for farmers. Behind it came the remnants of Tropical Storm Julia, which blanketed much of Eastern North Carolina. The final insult was from Hurricane Matthew with its uncertain path, but sweeping reach and catastrophic flooding.
At press time, we are in the midst of the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. We do not have any damage estimates, but we are continuing to assess damage and get in field reports on ag losses and crop conditions. Several rivers have not even crested yet, as the floodwaters continue to move downstream. So we anticipate more losses and more problems for agriculture.
In surveying some of the hardest-hit areas of southeastern North Carolina by air, I can only say I have never seen anything like this. I have seen a lot of storm damage as Commissioner of Agriculture, but this is catastrophic. Houses and barns were underwater, many roads washed away, and fields and crops submerged.
Flooded and damaged roads were creating challenges in moving feed and water to livestock operations, moving animals to market and moving fuel for generators.
The magnitude of the damage is mind boggling. Basically, it looked like a lake from Smithfield to the coast.
Lots of crops were still in the field when the heavy rains hit our state. Farmers had been working as hard they could to harvest as much as they could before the wet weather rolled in. But there is only so much that can be done in the days leading up to a storm of this severity and scope.
Peanuts, cotton, soybeans and sweet potatoes were among the crops still in the fields. We also are concerned about livestock and poultry in flooded areas.
Most in farming know that just because a crop is harvested doesn’t mean it is out of trouble. Loss of power to tobacco curing barns and grain bins can lead to loss, as can flooded storage facilities.
Many people will remember Hurricane Floyd and the damage it caused in Eastern North Carolina. It was referred to as a 500-year flood, something many of us expected we would only see once in a lifetime. I am not sure how this hurricane will go down in history, but I expect the agriculture community will be talking about it for a long, long time.
As a farmer, I know it is difficult to work all season, get to harvest time, just to see the fruits of your labor rotting in the field, blown away or lost to power outages. We all know it’s a part of the risk of farming, but it is still like a hard blow to the gut.
When we have challenges in our community, we typically see a lot of neighbors helping neighbors. From what I can see following Hurricane Matthew, there are a lot of neighbors in the same boat. We are going to need outside help. We are working closely with our federal partners on assistance for farmers.
We will be continuing to assess agricultural damage and assist farmers and agribusiness however we can. I will update readers in the December issue. Please keep our farm community and Eastern North Carolina in your prayers. Please visit our website, www.ncagr.gov to find up-to-date information.