State News

Farmers worry about crop damage from Hurricane Irene

Posted August 29, 2011 7:13 a.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2011 3:08 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina farmers felt the financial weight of Hurricane Irene's winds and heavy rains as inspections after the weekend storm revealed damage to field crops, poultry and other agricultural businesses.

State leaders touring eastern North Carolina Sunday said they saw tobacco stalks knocked over in fields, damage to corn and cotton, and dead poultry.

"When you get damage of this magnitude from this type of storm, it's catastrophic for the farming community," said Doug Webb, who manages Wainwright Farms in Wilson County.

"People's lives are turned upside down. The farmlands are destroyed," Gov. Bev Perdue said.

After taking an aerial tour of eastern North Carolina, she thinks that farm damage "is going to be another huge cost to the state."

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger also toured farms in damaged areas. Berger said he saw dead turkeys outside a damaged poultry house near Kinston, as well as damaged fields.

"We have seen from the air some fairly significant crop damage," he said.

The state Agriculture Department also received reports of damage to greenhouses, grain storage facilities and an aquaculture operation in Pamlico County.

Initial reports show cotton bolls weren't stripped from their plants, while tobacco farmers might have been saved by rushing their leaf to their curing barns before the storm, agriculture department spokesman Brian Long said. The leaf curing process, though, could have been spoiled if farmers lost power in their barns and didn't have generators.

Webb said tobacco took the hardest hit at his Stantonsburg farm. That crop makes up 60 percent of his business.

Long said it might take several days of data-gathering before the total crop damage is known. 

Given the size of Hurricane Irene, other farmers likely suffered losses similar to his, Webb said.

"You can talk to any farmer from here back to the coast that's tending tobacco or corn or cotton. He's going to have about the same amount of damage," he said.

Farmers could receive low-interest loans from the federal government if an agricultural disaster is declared in North Carolina. Thirty-four eastern and coastal counties are also eligible for basic federal disaster relief.

Webb said he's still calculating how the crop damage will impact his bottom line. He thinks he'll likely have to file an insurance claim.

"We'll just take it one day at a time, and we'll just see," he said.