Farmers in Hurricane Florence’s Path Race to Cushion the Blow

By Shruti Date Singh | September 11, 2018

North Carolina corn farmer Darren Armstrong is racing to harvest as much as he can before potentially the worst storm in 64 years hits the state.

It’s already one of the busiest times of the year for U.S. growers as they reap what they sowed in the spring. Now, Armstrong and scores of other crop, poultry and livestock farmers are even busier harvesting corn, stockpiling feed, moving livestock, hooking up generators and, most importantly, safeguarding their families from Hurricane Florence.

The storm is forecast to make landfall in the state Thursday night or early Friday. It may pound North Carolina with an ocean surge, winds over 100 miles an hour and five days of rain. Any flooding could compromise fields that haven’t been picked yet this season for crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Florence Gets Bigger as It Heads Toward North Carolina Coast

Armstrong, 46, is battling to get as much corn as possible out of the fields and into bins. His family began harvesting their 4,500 acres in mid-August, a couple of weeks late because wet weather had delayed planting.

“We’re trying to finish,” Armstrong said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from his combine while harvesting corn. “We are probably not going to make it.”

By the time the rain starts, roughly three-quarters of his corn should be harvested. Another 700 to 1,000 acres may be left standing, exposed to the belting wind and rain. His family has soybeans growing on another 4,500 acres, and that crop won’t be ready to harvest for another month. His farm is in Hyde County, which is right on the coast, and his soybeans also may have to endure the “salt spray” the storm carries with it from the ocean.

While millions of residents are moving inland, Armstrong plans to stay on or near his farm with his family.

“There is so much here to look after,” he said. “I feel safe at home. We have supplies. We have done it before.”

Armstrong’s experience appears to be similar to that of many other farmers across the state. They are taking steps to prepare for the storm but can do little as it passes over their fields, as well as pastures and barns with cattle, hogs and poultry. North Carolina is the top U.S. turkey producer, ranks third for chicken and is home to more hogs than any state other than Iowa, government data show. It is also among the major U.S. cotton producers.

About 43 percent of North Carolina’s corn has been harvested as of Sept. 9, but none of its soybeans, cotton and peanuts were collected by that date, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture weekly crop progress report.

Farmer Alex Jordan has already gathered all his corn but wasn’t planning to start harvesting his peanuts for another three weeks and soybeans for more than a month. His farm is located in the southeastern part of the state.

“They are going to have to ride out the storm,” Jordan, 60, said. “I have been through a number of hurricanes but not one with 100 miles per hour winds.”

He also raises about 40 head of cattle that he’s moving to higher ground pastures. He’s put some of his equipment in shelters and is weighing down trailers and tractors by tying them together and filling fuel tanks up with water.

Across the state, livestock and poultry producers are working to get feed on site, move animals away from flood-prone areas and lower waste levels in outdoor lagoons, according to North Carolina’s agriculture department. For tobacco, most of the crop has been collected, but power outages can impact the curing process.

Tobacco Crop at Risk as Florence Heads Toward North Carolina

Jan Archer’s 1,200-sow operation in Goldsboro, North Carolina, is working to fill all feed tanks and keep enough fuel on hand to run generators for ventilation systems in livestock houses. Two employees will stay at the farm to ensure animals are cared for and electricity is running. Waste-lagoon levels also have to be kept lower-than-normal during hurricane season, Archer said Monday in an interview.

Farmer Jay Sullivan, who operates in southeastern Sampson County, is also trying to harvest the last of his corn acres. Some of the elevators in his area are almost full and operating around the clock while feed mills rush to get supplies out.

He’s also a contract hog grower, operating a pig nursery and finishing barns. New piglets are arriving in his nursery this week earlier than expected because moving animals during the storm may not be possible, he said.

Sullivan, 56, said he’s probably been through a dozen hurricanes. Safety of his family is his top concern as Florence bears down. But he feels better prepared than 25 years ago.

“This ain’t our first rodeo,” Sullivan said.

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