Hurricane Matthew ripped into Haiti first, where it left significant destruction in its wake (see sidebar below). Then, it bore down on the Florida coast and continued up into the Carolinas.
“Hurricane Matthew has brought record-breaking floods and strong winds to a large part of North Carolina,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “We expect impacts to farms to include power outages, damage to crops and agricultural buildings, and animal health emergencies. We are prepared to work with our state and local partners to help our agricultural community in the storm’s aftermath.”
Reuters reported that the U.S. daily hog slaughter on Monday dropped more than 50,000 head, which industry sources attributed to possible plant closures in the Carolinas after Hurricane Matthew deluged the East Coast over the weekend.
Smithfield Foods canceled last Saturday's hog slaughter at its Tar Heel, North Carolina plant, the biggest in the world, as a safety precaution ahead of the storm, said the Reuters article, and slaughter numbers showed the impact.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's daily livestock slaughter report estimated Monday's hog slaughter at 385,000 head. That was down from 440,000 last Monday and 441,000 head on Sept. 26.
"None of our processing plants in North Carolina or Virginia suffered substantive damage, but flooding is making the movement of hogs and employees difficult," Kathleen Kirkham, Smithfield company spokeswoman, told Reuters. She said employees were “working around the clock to determine the impact of the extremely high levels of rain in North Carolina on its hog farms and packing plants.”
Total Impact Still Unknown
A Washington Post article reported significant damage to livestock facilities.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said “officials would work to quickly dispose of decaying animal carcasses that could contaminate waters and pose a potential public health threat. The state wants to avoid a repeat of the problems that followed Hurricane Floyd in 1999, when hundreds of bloated hog and chicken carcasses floated for days in floodwaters.
In an AP article, McCrory said thousands of animals had drowned - mostly chickens on poultry farms - and he was deciding on rules for disposing of the carcasses.
“Floyd left behind its own environmental crisis from livestock farming, when waste from hog lagoons mixed with flood waters in a toxic mess," he said.
Parts of eastern North Carolina had already received heavy rains in late September and had surplus soil moisture as of last Monday. Many crops, such as soybeans, cotton, peanuts and sweet potatoes, were still in the field. The earlier rain hampered farmers’ efforts to harvest before Hurricane Matthew affected the state.
Department officials will conduct damage assessments in the coming days as it becomes safe to do so. However, several farmers in the eastern part of the state have posted photos on social media of fields under water.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has activated its toll-free hotline to help farmers affected by Hurricane Matthew connect with resources that can assist with recovery. Farmers who have an agricultural emergency can call 1-866-645-9403. Farmers can also find recovery resources on the department’s disaster web pages,www.ncagr.gov/disaster.