Agriculture damage estimates expected this week

By: Alan Wooten - Bladen Journal
Alan Wooten | Bladen Journal A week after Hurricane Florence, a chicken farm in the Ivanhoe community off Ennis Bridge Road in Bladen County is under water from the South River.

IVANHOE — Preliminary crop damage estimates from Hurricane Florence are expected this week from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Farmers have been hit with a trifecta over the last 24 months. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated areas of the state east of Interstate 95. This spring and summer in a Raleigh federal courtroom, farmers have taken a beating from neighbors who filed nuisance lawsuits.

Now Florence.

When President Donald Trump visited last week, Gov. Roy Cooper said his message to the White House was North Carolina farmers will need more than just a “farm bill” to be made whole again. He called Florence’s impact on them a “gut punch.”

The number of farms and millions of acres in farmland in the state have steadily declined since 2008, according to USDA numbers.

Matthew killed about 2,800 hogs and 1.8 million chickens and turkeys. Most published estimates for Florence have doubled those numbers, and they could rise. Matthew also caused about $400 million in damage to crops, a number that would have been higher had it not arrived Oct. 8 — when many harvests were already complete.

The trials for hog lawsuits started earlier this year, long before the Atlantic hurricane season. The first three of 26 were completed April 26, June 29 and Aug. 3. The suits name Smithfield Foods subsidiary Murphy-Brown as the defendant, rather than local farmers, but those farms involved in cases must lose their hogs if plaintiffs prevail. So far, plaintiffs are 3-for-3 — including one from the White Oak community — with damage awards of $549.25 million, a figure capped by state law for punitive damages at $97.88 million.

“This hurricane couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Larry Wooten, the N.C. Farm Bureau president, told The Associated Press.

Steve Troxler is the state commissioner of agriculture. In an interview, he called the damage “catastrophic” and “unbelievable.”

“I think it’s easily going to be in the billions of dollars,” he said.

In some cases, including Bladen County, just getting to farms to assess damage has been difficult. Many roads were still cut off more than a week after Florence’s Sept. 14 arrival. The Cape Fear River, which flows the length of the county, and the Black and South rivers didn’t see crests from flooding until the latter part of the week.

Bladen County, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ranks sixth among the state’s 100 counties with about $347 million in cash receipts for livestock, dairy and poultry; crops; and government payments. It is sixth in livestock, dairy and poultry with more than $274 million, is third in the number of hogs and pigs raised, and is fifth in the number of turkeys raised.

It is a top-20 county in the state in both corn for grain, and for broilers — an industry name for chicken raised for meat production. In terms of total sales, broilers are No. 1 with nearly one-third, hogs (19.8 percent) are second and turkeys (9.4 percent) third.

Tobacco is fourth, and the Tobacco Growers Association chief executive, Graham Boyd, has estimated his industry’s losses at $250 million to $350 million. Harvesting for those crops was split, some having gotten in and about 40 percent still in the field.

Bladen County leads the state in production of blueberries. The Agriculture Department and the N.C. Blueberry Council are each yet to release damage estimates.

Alan Wooten | Bladen Journal
A week after Hurricane Florence, a chicken farm in the Ivanhoe community off Ennis Bridge Road in Bladen County is under water from the South River.
https://www.bladenjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_agriculture.jpgAlan Wooten | Bladen Journal
A week after Hurricane Florence, a chicken farm in the Ivanhoe community off Ennis Bridge Road in Bladen County is under water from the South River.

Alan Wooten

Bladen Journal

Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.

Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.