Farmers face #036;27.8 million in crop losses

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 13, 2003

In an agricultural year that got off to a bad start due to a prolonged period of wet and cool weather, the 2003 season will end on a down note thanks to Hurricane Isabel.

Preliminary reports complied by agricultural observers here in the Roanoke-Chowan region have placed the damage to area crops at an estimated $27.8 million. That total, placed upon a combined 210,140 acres of affected cropland in the four counties, represents nearly 20 percent of all storm-related crop losses statewide.

To date, officials with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture have estimated $155.1 million in crop losses statewide. That total includes an estimated $257,380 setback for chicken farmers as well as $34 million in damages to farm structures.

As expected, the majority of the losses statewide occurred along Isabel’s path, one that took the hurricane right over the Roanoke-Chowan area. The storm’s powerful winds, estimated at 100 mph-plus in gusts, took its toll on corn, soybeans, tobacco, cotton and peanuts.

Based upon a statewide report, cotton took the biggest hit – an estimated $53 million loss on 572,388 acres. Soybeans suffered the next biggest loss, an estimated $27 million on 1.2 million acres.

Isabel’s winds were especially cruel to Bertie County farmers, resulting in estimated crop losses of $15.24 million, tops in the state. Bertie has 53,915 acres of storm-ravished crops.

Of its 37,013 affected acres of cropland, Gates County farmers suffered an estimated $4.88 million in losses. Hertford County was next on the list with a projected loss of $4.84 million on its 35,680 acres.

Farmers in Northampton County will face $2.85 million in estimated crop loss on their 83,533 combined acres.

&uot;These estimates are very preliminary and could change as we receive more reports from other counties affected by the storm,&uot; said Britt Cobb, North Carolina’s Interim Agriculture Commissioner. &uot;Still it is clear that agriculture and our farmers suffered a serious blow.&uot;

He continued, &uot;The bulk of the damage appears to be to crops, structures and equipment. It will likely take some time to get a more complete picture of the total impact of this storm on our agricultural community.&uot;

The northeastern area of the state is a large producer of cotton, peanuts, corn, soybeans, and tobacco. Eight of the top 10 cotton and peanut producing counties were in the path of Hurricane Isabel.

Livestock and poultry operations in the area were largely spared from extensive wind and water damage.

&uot;Farmers have suffered significant losses in the past several years from hurricanes Floyd and Dennis and from last year’s drought,&uot; noted Britt. &uot;The damage from Hurricane Isabel will only add to the troubles facing North Carolina farmers. As we develop a clearer picture of the overall damage, we will push for federal emergency disaster assistance for our farmers.&uot;

Agriculture and agribusiness is North Carolina’s number one industry, accounting for $62.6 billion annually and employing more than 20 percent of the state’s workforce.