Hurricane Florence brought the people of North Carolina relentless rains, rising rivers, destroyed homes, broken roads, tornadoes, and general destruction. While there is gratefulness that Florence weakened from a category 4 to a 2, she was plenty strong enough to cause devastation that will not soon be forgotten. Thousands are feeling the impact of the storm.
Farmers, like others, have experienced their share of damage and devastation with the storm. In the aftermath of Florence, farmers face loss of crops, equipment, livestock, and for some, even their homes. After days under the clouds of Florence, the sun has begun to shine, and with the sun comes the rebuilding process.
It isn’t going to be easy, but farmers have come through storms before. Just two years ago, people came together to help and support each other during Hurricane Matthew. Boats were lent, tractors used to ford flooded roads, supplies shared, and helping hands abounded, and that same assistance is happening now with Florence.
Before Florence even hit, farmers were coming together to help each other harvest crops. Friends and neighbors brought combines and trucks to pick as much possible before the rain. Although, not all crops were able to be harvested due to time or simply not being ready for harvest, the camaraderie shown before the storm is what will get NC farmers through after the storm. For those with flattened corn and soybeans, flooded sweet potatoes, and battered cotton and tobacco, the loss is significant, but quitting is not in a farmer’s vocabulary.
When one NC farmer saw the devastation on his farm, he was asked, “Have you given up?” Although tired and worn, he replied, “No! I’ll fight until the end!” Hurricane Florence may have been a category 2 but farmers will always be a category 5 in resilience. The rebuilding process will consist of long hours.
Storm impacts will last much longer than it takes to turn the lights back on. True impacts may not be fully realized for months. Preliminary reports of sweet potato crop damage is 25-35% but could rise according to an article in The Packer. The impacts of the storm will not just affect farmers, though. It will also influence consumers. Sweet potato prices have already jumped as of Sept 19 from $2 to $14-16 per carton. It isn’t just sweet potatoes. Produce like cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and bell peppers will be affected and see a jump in price as well.
A spike in prices is not the only outcome of the storm. Production will also be down in many industries. Sanderson Farms predicts processing volumes will be reduced through December due to damages and getting off-schedule with their hatcheries. Smithfield’s Tarheel Hog Plant closed for several days, as did Perdue Farms.
Cotton farmers may feel the impact of the storm the most. Cotton crops were at a vulnerable stage. Bolls had just opened, and fibers were exposed to the deluge of rain severely affecting the cotton’s quality. The USDA has reported cotton field conditions dropping by 14 percentage points.
Tobacco crops were also affected. Danny Kornegay, a NC Farmer, said in an interview that 30-40% of tobacco was still in the field across the state. The storm blew leaves off and flooded much of the crop. Meanwhile, other crops did not face as much damage like soybeans and corn.
The next few days and weeks will be spent determining the true impacts of the storm and finding a new normal and picking up the pieces. Rest assured this is more than a farmer’s fight. The ability farmers have to feed the community will impact those not directly involved in agriculture. The farmer’s fight is everyone’s fight.
As North Carolina farmers deal with the aftermath of a major storm, it is easy to be discouraged. It is understandable to be heartbroken. However, we are Carolina strong and we are farmer strong. As someone once said, “A strong soul shines after every storm.” Farmers’ souls are shining bright. Hurricane Florence was strong, but our farmers are stronger!