It’s been said that experience is a great educator, and a valuable lesson was learned by hog producers when hurricane Fran passed through North Carolina in 1996, followed by Floyd in 1999, where many hog lagoons overflowed creating a water pollution hazard in many areas. In the ensuing 16 years, Deborah Johnson Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina Pork Council says lagoon management has changed:
“Well, you know, previous experiences like those in ’96 and ’99 with Hurricanes Fran and Floyd have made North Carolina pork producers particularly aware of their responsibilities to protect the environment. Let me just share a little bit about what goes on throughout the year; our producers don’t wait for a storm to be formed or to be named, they make great efforts to manage their manure application systems throughout the year before hurricane season begins. So, during dry periods they lower the waste treatment levels by irrigating their farm fields with this natural fertilizer. And the land application is regulated to keep from over-fertilizing the fields. Most farms keep their lagoon depths far below the regulated amount in anticipation of events like this.
Most are designed with free-board levels and the lagoons have to be able to accommodate the equivalent of a 25 year, 24 hour storm. So, that’s going on all the time, and it puts our folks, this year, in this particular situation, going into this with well maintained levels and so we are confident that we should be able to maintain this storm event.”
Even if Hurricane Irene should bring 12 to 15 inches of rain, Johnson says they are confident that whatever problems may occur will be isolated:
“Well, we may have isolated areas where you have 12 inches of rain, or 15 inches of rain in one location, that can cause all sorts of problems, not necessarily with the lagoon levels but it could cause other issues, if that area has had moisture prior to that, if it’s already a moist area and it’s had a high level. But, we feel very confident about the lagoon levels going into this event, and we don’t feel like this extreme event will cause overtopping or problems.”
If there’s one bright spot, the two heaviest hog producing counties in the state, Sampson and Duplin, shouldn’t be in the teeth of the storm:
“According to the tracking that we have seen, and I know that there’s updates as we go along, and as it gets closer the meteorologist will be able to predict, but we’re monitoring this very closely. And as we look at our large production areas, they’re off the coast, so we’re not in a position where we’re going to be close to the eye of it, at this point. But, we definitely will keep monitoring, and as I said earlier, our producers make great efforts to manage their systems, to be prepared through all types of weather, and they have plans of action for storms such as this in order to ensure that not only their manure management systems are in good shape, but they’re able to provide proper care, and feed and water for their animals.”
Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina Pork Council, Deborah Johnson