Wilson, N.C. — Farmers in central and eastern North Carolina had a rough 2011, after a series of tornadoes in April and Hurricane Irene in September. The weather events uprooted and drowned crops, battered buildings and unleashed floods and wind damage on coastal counties.
Luckily, farmers in the 35 counties covered by federal disaster declarations are finally getting help.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday announced those affected can qualify for two programs that offer financial assistance to replace damaged equipment or property and pay production costs, debt and living expenses.
Wilson County tobacco farmer Lynn Pittman said damage to his farm from Hurricane Irene was the worst he's ever seen.
"It was pretty bad. We probably lost at least 60 to 70 percent of our tobacco," he said. "A lot of it was flattened."
What's worse, Pittman was still recovering from tornadoes that raked the state five months earlier.
"A lot of trees were blown in the fields. We've had to clean up. My greenhouse, it was practically destroyed," he said.
Irene alone caused more than $300 million in crop damage across the state, but the full damage from the storms may not been realized yet. Pittman said he wonders how next year's crops will fare and whether they'll be more susceptible to disease after the tumult the storms caused his fields.
He doesn't plan to plant tobacco in the same fields as last year and said relief can't come soon enough.
"It's got to help, especially for people (who are) unable to get financing or they've lost so much money," Pittman said.
The counties eligible for aid from tornado damage are: Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Moore, Nash, Robeson, Sampson, Wake, Wayne and Wilson.
The counties eligible for aid from Hurricane Irene damage are: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chatham, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Vance, Wake, Warren, Washington, Wayne and Wilson.
Emergency loan applications can be obtained by visiting the Farm Service Agency's website or by calling the agency's Raleigh office at 919-875-4800.
Farmers have until Sept. 10 to apply for disaster assistance.