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US farmers scramble to harvest crops as hurricane looms

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As powerful Hurricane Florence crept closer to the southeastern United States on Tuesday, farmers in North Carolina rushed to harvest corn and tobacco and stock up on pig rations, while the danger of deadly flooding threatened a state where millions of farm animals are housed.

The forecasts for devastating rain and winds also had WH Group’s Smithfield Foods, the largest U.S. pork processor, planning to shut two of its North Carolina plants – including the world’s biggest hog slaughterhouse.

Meanwhile, pig farmers across the state were lowering levels of liquid manure in outdoor storage pits in an effort to avoid a repeat of Hurricane Floyd. The 1999 storm flooded manure pits and contaminated waterways with animal carcasses and waste.

North Carolina is the country’s leading producer of tobacco, second-biggest producer of hogs and a major poultry producer. Its crops include corn, soy and cotton, making agriculture the state’s No. 1 industry, valued at $87 billion.

“The governor said that North Carolina is the bull’s eye of this hurricane,” Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, said in an interview. “I’ll tell you, agriculture is in the heart of that bull’s eye.”

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Florence, a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 kph), was expected to make landfall on Friday, bringing heavy, sustained rain and potentially deadly flooding to the U.S. Southeast coast. Some 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate.

Two-thirds of North Carolina’s farm income comes from poultry and livestock, including hogs and dairy cattle, according to Wooten. The state has 8.9 million swine, 12 percent of the U.S. herd, U.S. Agriculture Department data showed.

In 2017, its farmers raised 830.8 million chickens for meat, 9 percent of the U.S. flock, and 32.5 million turkeys, or 13 percent of the U.S. total, according to USDA data.

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It is unclear how many farm animals are in the storm’s path, according to both Wooten and the North Carolina Poultry Federation.

Two years ago, more than a million poultry birds died when floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew covered areas across central and eastern North Carolina. Carcasses were composted inside the houses where the birds were being raised.

More than 20 inches (51 cm) of rainfall are possible across eastern North Carolina, said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist for weather forecaster Radiant Solutions.

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The approaching storm also prompted commodity handler Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] to make plans to close meat processing plants in West Columbia, South Carolina, and Dayton, Virginia, on Friday. Both Cargill and Smithfield said the plant closures were due to safety concerns.

CORN ‘ROUND THE CLOCK
Bo Stone, who raises corn and hogs in Rowland, North Carolina, said he worked into the night to harvest his crop to avoid damage from high winds. On Tuesday, rain halted his progress. “We’ve been running as hard as we can go,” he said.

Stone said relocating animals in the storm zone was not an option for many farmers. “Nobody would have the capacity to handle your animals,” he said.

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Tall corn and tobacco crops are most vulnerable to wind damage and difficult to harvest if knocked down, said Rhonda Garrison, executive director of the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina.

“They’re around the clock on corn,” said Andy Curliss, chief executive officer for the NC Pork Council, an industry group.

North Carolina’s corn crop was 43 percent harvested as of Sunday, while the type of tobacco most commonly grown in the state was 67 percent harvested, according to USDA data.

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North Carolina has waived transportation rules to help farmers move crops and livestock ahead of the most severe storm to threaten the U.S. mainland this year. “During harvest, time is of the essence,” Governor Roy Cooper said in announcing a state of emergency.

Altria Group Inc, the parent of Philip Morris USA, said the storm could potentially affect tobacco fields, and is exploring its crop-buying options to offset any losses. British American Tobacco’s Reynolds American, parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, declined to comment.

North Carolina hog farmers have been spraying hog manure on farmland to lower the levels of waste in storage pits, known as lagoons, said Andrea Ashby, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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“The levels are in pretty good shape to handle the rain, but it all depends on how much rain we get,” Ashby said.

Most manure pits could handle up to 25 inches of rain, Curliss said.

Smithfield Foods said in a statement it has been lowering waste levels as necessary on its farms and encouraging farmers from whom it buys hogs to do the same.

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Reporting by Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Matthew Lewis


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected]. Send news tips to: [email protected].
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Aaron Zebley testifying will ‘establish the precedence’ Congress can interview all Mueller investigators: Democrat

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The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will swear in deputy special counsel Aaron Zebley along with special counsel Robert Mueller, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported Tuesday.

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell followed up on Maddow's reporting while interviewing Rep. Peter Welch, who sits on the Intelligence Committee.

"In your committee tomorrow, Aaron Zebley’s going to be a sworn witness at this stage. Do you expect committee members to solicit testimony from him as well as Robert Mueller? As much as Robert Mueller?" O'Donnell asked.

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AG Barr’s slip up means Mueller can explain whether he wanted to charge Trump: Ex-WH attorney

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Robert Mueller may have the green light to answer one of the questions Democrats are most excited to ask, Neal Katyal explained on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Tuesday.

Katyal, the former acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration, believes the rules have changed for Mueller since he submitted his reports and made his brief public comments.

Katyal explained, "We know that Mueller’s by the book, so he wants to stick to the four corners of the report. But the book has changed, because after he turned his report in, Barr said, 'oh, you could have actually told the American people did Mr. Trump commit a crime.' And if, now that Barr is saying that’s permissible for Mueller to have done ... I think Mueller should be asked that question by Congress and should answer that question because Barr is saying that’s fair game to answer, Mueller."

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Conservatives are furious about Trump’s budget deal — and they’re whining to Fox News about it

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No sooner was the news announced that President Donald Trump had reached an agreement with bipartisan leaders in Congress to lift spending caps and the debt ceiling, than rumors began swirling that hardline deficit hawks on Capitol Hill were discontented.

Several Republican politicians and officials noted to Fox News reporter Chad Pergram the broad sense of dissatisfaction with the deal, which authorizes far more spending than Republicans ever let President Barack Obama get away with and grows domestic spending in parity with defense spending:

A) There is consternation among many Republicans about the debt limit/spending deal…if it can pass, the state of play on deficit reduction, and now, President Trump’s standing. Concerned that Trump may lose some of his base backing budget caps/debt limit pkg

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