Damage reports from Hurricane Matthew have been slow to come in, many locations haven’t been accessible until recently. Director of the North Carolina Farm Service Agency, Bob Etheridge says most people still don’t have a grasp on what the storm did to agriculture in North Carolina:
“Last year, during the course of ’15, either with too much water in the east, or drought in the west, we had 91 of the 100 counties designated as secretarial disasters, that’s huge. And then this year, it was slow to getting the numbers in because power was off, and in some places roads were out, our offices were closed for several days, but to be declared a secretarial declaration for disaster under the qualifications, you had to have a 30% loss of one of the commodities, that being peanuts, sweet potatoes, cotton, soybeans, corn, or tobacco.
Well, this year, in some of these counties down east, we had at least three commodities, and in some cases four. That is huge.”
Etheridge says most every county east of Chatham County has a disaster declaration:
“This year it looks like, we’ve just requested from the secretary’s office, 39 primary counties in the east, plus 12 contiguous, that would be 51 counties in eastern North Carolina, that’s every county, really east of Chatham County, all the way up north to Warren. And in the far western counties, we have a total of 11 counties that have already been declared secretarial disaster areas, because of drought. I mean, we’ve got water in the east and drought in the west in our state, and it’s really tough.”
Etherege talks about some of the things he’s seen in his travels around the state:
“Oh, goodness, I was out early last week, I saw a five-acre field of peanuts as you turn them up. There weren’t enough peanuts in that field to fill the back of a pickup truck. They’d all washed away; in the ditches, down the road, in the streams. One down in Columbus County, 25 acre field washed away, none were there, they were all in the trees and in the woods. I saw ruts and ditches washed out in peanut fields deep as your knee. Soybean fields, I saw a 1,000 acre field in Hyde County had been totally under water…not water in it, up over the top of the beans. Cotton loss, in some places between 50 and 60%, probably not worth putting the harvester in the field.
Sweet potatoes, soured and rotting in the field because they’d been underwater, and some of them they’d put in houses, my yet rot in those houses. So, that farmer has all that expense for all the year, all the labor, and then they’re going to lose everything, because there’s no insurance for that potato once it goes in that house.”
Bob Etherege, Director of the Farm Service Agency for the State of North Carolina.