Hurricane Matthew and floods that have come after are jeopardizing crops, pitting farmers against rising water to claim commodities worth millions.
Peanuts, soybeans, and cotton, still in the fields and close to harvest, are threatened by flooded farmland in eastern counties. Most tobacco was harvested before the hurricane hit, but some of the product is in danger of rotting in barns where curing has been disrupted by power outages.
It’s too early to know the extent of the losses, and the impacts are specific to crops and locations. In some areas, the rain and flooding compounded problems of soils already saturated in earlier storms.
“It comes down to where you happen to be located and how much water you already had before the storm hit,” said Brian Long, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture.
“We were looking at a pretty good yield going into the harvest season,” Long said. “I’m afraid for many of those crops, it’s not going to be the case now.”
In 2014, cotton was worth $357 million in farm income in the state, sweet potatoes were worth $355 million, peanuts $94 million and soybeans $687 million, Long said. Farm income reflects acreage, yield, and prices farmers were able to get, Long said.
There’s still a chance for an “OK” peanut crop if the state has two weeks of good weather, said Bob Sutter, CEO of the N.C. Peanut Growers Association.
Some peanut farmers are facing their second down year in a row due to rain, Sutter said. “It can be very devastating.”
The cotton crop is in bad shape. Bolls were open and fluffy fibers ready to be picked as the hurricane reached the state. Now, acres of cotton are in danger of discoloration, said Don Nicholson, regional agronomist with the state Department of Agriculture.
“Cotton really took it on the chin,” he said. “Excessive rain messes up the color — stains it on the yellow side.” Flood water will turn it brown.
Some cotton may have blown to the ground, where it can’t be harvested. Nicholson said he rode through parts of his five-county region, which include Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Wilson and Wayne, and found some good cotton still in the fields.
“As soon as they can start harvesting,” Nicholson said of farmers, “most of them will.”
Of the rest, sweet potatoes growing in sandy, well-drained soil are going to fare better than those in heavier soils that retain water, he said. Sweet potatoes and peanuts in saturated soil are in danger of becoming damaged while still in the ground.
Later-maturing soybeans, unless they were submerged, should be fine, Nicholson said, while earlier maturing beans that were ready to be harvested are damaged.