It’s a horse race for North Carolina farmers trying to complete as much harvest as possible before hurricane Florence hits that state’s shoreline, with projected 140+ mph winds and rainfall accumulations of up to 30+ inches in some areas.
Justin Edwards, a North Carolina row-crop and hog farmer, located in Duplin County, approximately 50 miles inland of the North Carolina coastline where hurricane Florence is predicted to make landfall was 90 to 100 acres from being done with corn harvest.
“My wife and I were talking about it last night—they’re projecting 140 mile an hour winds to come in here and I don’t know how you get prepared for pretty much a tornado that’s going to stay around a couple days—it’s got me worried,” Edwards said. “We have to pray to the good Lord that he’ll have mercy on us.
Forecasters there were predicting very dangerous winds in excess of 75 mph may arriving overnight Thursday into Friday morning.
“We’re trying to finish up corn harvest right now—I’m hoping we can be done by hopefully the time I go to bed tonight—it’ll be a tight race. Luckily our neighbors that are finished are stepping up and helping us out,” Edwards said.
It’s a testament to the way things will evolve throughout rural North Carolina, once Florence has passed, says Edwards. “We’re in rural America and we’re really good about helping our neighbors. If one person is in need, a neighbor doesn’t mind stepping up and helping—we’re really good about pulling together and overcoming adversity.”
Even so, Edwards says area farmers, home to as many as 9 million hogs with major swine production facilities concentrated in the area, are also focused on preparing for the worst, securing livestock facilities, stocking extra fuel for generators, supplies and feed inventories.
“We’ve got to make sure the animals are taken care of just in case we lose power for a couple of days,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got fuel on hand, our feeders are full; our feed tanks are full of supplies, so that if the feed mill can’t run we’ve still got access to feed.
As focused as Edwards is on making sure his livestock are taken care of, he also has a higher priority and worry. “No matter what, I need to take care of our livestock but I’m more worried about my family and myself and our well-being,” he said.
Marlow Vaughn, a hog farmer located approximately 90 miles west of the North Carolina coastline in rural Wayne County, expressed similar concerns. “Not only do I worry about my family I worry about this farm—it’s our livelihood so it’s our top priority,” she said.
“We’re busy right now preparing our feed, preparing our houses, preparing our barns, making sure we have enough feed to feed our animals in case something happens,” Vaughn said. “We’re making sure generators are working in case the electricity goes out and making sure our farm employees are safe and they don’t have to worry about coming out here and that things are already taken care of.”
Saying it’s definitely, “all hands on deck” Vaughn said she doesn’t know what to expect. “We’ve never seen a hurricane like this before so we just don’t know—we’re preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. That’s going to be hard when you are inside and the storms hitting and the wind is howling and you don’t know what’s going on or what’s happening at your barns.”
Based on past hurricane experiences, Edwards says they have a time-tested protocol to follow. “Anytime you have significant damage to a barn you have to improvise and do the best you can to take care of those animals,” he said.
“If you have if you have roofs ripped off it affects your watering system, it affects your feed system, it affects the electrical supply to your barn. So you just have to improvise, but we do have protocols and what we have done in the past has worked for the most part.”
According to the North Carolina Pork Council, additional actions that farmers are taking include:
- Shifting animals to higher ground. Farmers and integrators are working to move animals out of barns in known flood-prone areas, shifting them to other farms to prevent animal mortality.
- Ensuring feed supplies are in place. Farmers and integrators are taking precautions to ensure ample feed provisions are on farms in anticipation of impassable roadways.
- Preparing for power outages. Farmers are securing generators and fuel supplies to respond to extended power outages.
- Assessing lagoon levels. Farmers have carefully managed their lagoons throughout the summer growing season, using their manure as a crop fertilizer. Every hog farm lagoon is required to maintain a minimum buffer to account for major flood events. Farmers across the major production areas of North Carolina are reporting current lagoon storage levels that can accommodate more than 25 inches of rain, with many reporting capacity volumes far beyond that.