Florence crop losses will be ‘in the millions’

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Wilson County farmers may qualify for Farm Service Agency emergency loans after President Trump declared a major disaster in the state due to Hurricane Florence.

On Monday, 10 North Carolina counties were declared eligible for federal disaster assistance, including Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Lenoir, Sampson, Columbus, Duplin, Jones, Robeson and Wayne, according to a release from the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

In addition to the 10 primary disaster counties, 15 others were named “contiguous counties” where farm families may be eligible for FSA emergency loan assistance. They include Wilson, Brunswick, Craven, Johnston, Onslow, Scotland, Carteret, Greene, Lee, Pender, Wake, Chatham, Hoke, Moore and Pitt.

John David McBryde II, director of the FSA office in Wilson County, said farmer eligibility was effective Monday. Farmers can apply for emergency loans for physical and production losses. The deadline for filing applications is May 17, 2019.

The FSA office is located at 1806 Goldsboro St. SW. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and the office can be reached at 252-237-5147, ext. 2.

“Wilson County agriculture took a significant hit from Hurricane Florence,” said Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office in Wilson County.

“While the total damages to agricultural interests in Wilson County are still being determined by USDA officials, it seems likely that these losses from Florence will be in the millions,” Harrell said. “Overall, our farmers are going to feel the financial effects of Florence for a long time.”

About 50 percent of the tobacco crop was in the fie ld when the hurricane hit, Harrell said.

Harrell said immediate losses include leaves blown off the plant, broken leaf mid-ribs and tattered leaves.

“Since the hurricane, tobacco has flopped from saturated soils in many places,” Harrell said. “Places on the leaf that were bruised during the hurricane have started to rot. The wind stressed the plants, making them produce ethylene, which makes it mature/ripen at a faster rate.”

Growers have been working long hours trying to harvest tobacco that was salvageable, Harrell said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of tobacco is going to ‘burn up’ before the grower can harvest it,” Harrell said. “I anticipate all the tobacco that can be harvested will be barned this week. The Wilson County crop was large and late enough to last well into mid-October.”

Cotton was also affected.

“Lint was blown out of open bolls,” Harrell said. “There is concern that there will be boll rot in the bolls that were cracked at the time of the hurricane. When lint stays wet for an extended period of time, the seeds sprout in the lint and a new cotton plant begins to grow. Excessive water also generally lowers lint quality. We had a fantastic cotton crop in the field.”

Harrell said farmers worked diligently harvesting corn before the hurricane’s arrival.

“Approximately 65 percent of the corn crop was harvested prior to the hurricane,” Harrell said. “They were able to harvest low-lying areas that could flood. This helped minimize damage to the corn crop. There will be some loss due to lodging and grain quality issues.”

Soybeans are twisted around and blown down some, but overall should be all right, Harrell said.

Harrell said that both peanuts and sweet potatoes may have fared all right during the hurricane.

“The Sept. 1 crop production report indicates a drop in yield for most of N.C.’s major commodities,” said Dee Webb, state statistician for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In a Sept. 12 release reflecting projections prior to the hurricane, corn was down 10 percent, peanuts were down 19 percent and soybeans were down 11 percent, while cotton was up 9 percent on the production forecast.

Growers who have questions can call the N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Wilson County office at 252-237-0111.