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article imageFarmers in Carolinas could take billions in losses from Florence

By Karen Graham     Sep 29, 2018 in Environment
For farmers in North Carolina, Hurricane Florence is testing their resolve. Most are still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Matthew two years ago, and now they are faced with billions of dollars in losses this year.
After the high winds and rains, that were measured in feet, not inches, and the rising rivers that overspilled their banks, flooding neighborhoods, and fields, early reports are already confirming the pre-storm worries about crop losses.
According to the latest estimates from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florence caused more than $1.1 billion in damage to crops and livestock in North Carolina. Of that amount, $27 million was in damages to vegetables and horticultural crop losses.
This amount far exceeds the $400 million in agricultural losses to agriculture caused by Hurricane Matthew.
“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,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in the release, according to The Packer. “These early estimates show just what a devastating and staggering blow this hurricane leveled at our agriculture industry.”
Sweet potatoes served in their skins  a sumptuous side dish.
Sweet potatoes served in their skins, a sumptuous side dish.
Here is a breakdown of crop losses:
*Row crop losses are estimated at $986.6 million
*Forestry losses are estimated at $69.6 million
*Green industry losses are estimated at $30 million
*Vegetable and horticulture crop losses are estimated at $26.8 million
*Livestock, poultry and aquaculture losses are estimated at $23.1 million
*Livestock losses are 4.1 million poultry and an estimate of 5,500 hogs.
The above estimates were based on the percentage of crops still in the field in the 35 counties hurt the most by Florence, and does not include a breakdown of individual crops.
Sweet potatoes and peanuts?
With crops like tobacco, corn, and cotton, it was fairly easy to assess the damages. However, sweet potatoes and peanuts are grown below the soil. Kelly McIver, the executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, Benson, said there are no industry estimates yet for sweet potato crop damage from Florence.
Developing pods on a peanut plant
Developing pods on a peanut plant
North Carolina is the country's largest sweet potato producer, accounting for 60 percent of the national harvest. In 2017, the 90,000 acres of sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina were worth $346.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As for peanuts, last year, North Carolina harvested 117,000 acres worth $113.2 million.
State officials are saying it's just too early to even give an estimate and farmers won't be able to determine the damage to the crop until the fields dry out. And workers will know right away if the crop has been damaged.
A plow turns the mounded potato plants over, and a crew of workers follows, picking up good potatoes and leaving the bad. A waterlogged potato will be darker and soft. Then there is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules that have to be followed.
The USDA considers food crops exposed to floodwaters to be unsafe for humans and also bars their use in animal feed unless they pass certain tests. This rule applies to creek and river flooding only - excessive rainfall on a crop does not bar it from human consumption.
Another thing going against North Carolina's farmers is the whole season, itself. Sweet potatoes are usually harvested in late August, but farmers got a late start because it was so dry in June. Only about 10 percent of the sweet potato crop had been harvested when Florence hit.
Needless to say, with the pessimistic outlook, prices of sweet potatoes jumped by about $2 to $14-16 per carton on Sept. 19.
More about Hurricane Florence, Flooding, Carolinas, Agriculture, billions in losses
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