Farmers assess Hurricane Irene's damages to agriculture along East Coast

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31- Hurricane Irene's high winds and excessive rain caused power outages, flooding, and agricultural damage across much of the East Coast. Many reports indicate that tobacco growers are suffering total losses in North Carolina and Virginia, and overall losses are predicted to cost millions for the most affected counties. East Coast corn crop damages are also severe due to wind-flattened stocks already inflicted by drought.

Brian Long,
North Carolina Department of Agriculture public affairs director, said almost every county in North Carolina east of I-95 was affected by the storm, where 73 percent of the state's tobacco is produced.  This summer's drought conditions stalled harvesting longer than usual, leaving almost 70 percent of the crop still in the fields as a target for wind and rain. 

“Some farmers lost their entire crop in the field. Because of power loss, other farmers also suffered the loss of tobacco that was already in curing barns,” Long said. “Corn, cotton and soybeans also took a pounding. Much of the corn crop in the eastern part of the state was already suffering from drought. The hurricane took out what was left.”

Flooding continues in New England, New York and New Jersey due to heavy rainfall from Hurricane Irene, according to the National Weather Service. Most rivers have crested, but flood and flash flood watches and warnings remain in effect.
 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said many fields are underwater and an undetermined number of dairy cows drowned or were swept away by the rushing flood waters.

“Many Vermont farmers are experiencing devastating effects from the flooding and washed out roads in the wake of Hurricane Irene. The heavy rains accompanied by high winds are leaving farmers with flooded fields and barns, debris, and limited options for milk pick-ups,” according the Vermont Agriculture Agency. 

USDA's Farm Service Agency will further assess damages to agriculture and report damages to crops and livestock in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to survey farms in North Carolina and Virginia. Vilsack urged farmers to file crop damage claims with their insurers and said federal assistance may cover additional losses and damage to rural infrastructure. USDA encouraged farmers, ranchers and producers to contact their local Farm Service Agency Service Center to report damages to crops or livestock loss as soon as possible.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue announced Wednesday that seven North Carolina counties are approved for federal disaster assistance as a result of damage from Hurricane Irene. Perdue joined Vilsack and Napolitano on Tuesday's survey of the damage. 

In a preliminary report from Maryland's Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance, the secretary reported that most of the agricultural damage was inflicted on drought-stricken corn fields where wind flattened the crop, making it difficult to harvest.   The areas hit hardest in Maryland were the Southern part of the state and the Lower Eastern Shore. According to his report, Maryland soybeans fared well, as did livestock. Approximately 100 acres of watermelon were destroyed and 600 acres of string beans may be unharvestable, said the report. The Maryland Department of Agriculture originally reported poultry deaths, but later corrected that the state did not have any chicken deaths due to Hurricane Irene. 

Eleven Pennsylvania counties are on the list for potential federal disaster assistance and several New York counties are listed as major disaster areas for Federal Emergency Assistance.   Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley also declared a state of emergency in Maryland. 

Other crop producers concerned about the extent of hurricane damage include New Jersey blueberry growers, cotton growers in North Carolina and Virginia and poultry producers along the East Coast. Updates from the Farm Service Agency on the sectors most affected by Hurricane Irene are expected in the following days.     

USDA announced today that emergency loans are available to agricultural producers through the Farm Service Agency Emergency (EM) Loan Program. Assistance is available through various FSA assistance programs including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE), the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and the Livestock Indemnity Program. USDA also reports that assistance is available for crop producers who previously purchased crop insurance through programs offered by the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA).
This story was updated at 7:50 p.m. on 8/31/2011
This story was updated at 7:28 am on 9/1/2011 
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