Steve Troxler, North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, didn’t mince words in detailing the destruction Hurricane Florence left in her wake as she made landfall on Wrightsville Beach Sept. 14 and refused to leave.“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Troxler said to Southern Crop Protection Association (SCPA) members at the organization’s annual meeting Nov. 12 in Asheville, N.C.
“Words can’t describe the unbelievable devastation. It is a catastrophe,” he said. “Florence came ashore as a Category 1 storm, but just sat there, and sat there, and sat there.”
He said he had never witnessed “a river running backwards before. The wind blew so hard it pushed water up the rivers. When the water moving up river met water moving down, flooding occurred.”
He said before the storm moved out, days after landing, “8 trillion gallons of water fell out of the sky. I have trouble contemplating that, so I had folks break it down. That’s enough to provide every person in the United States with 240,000 pints of water.
Troxler said flooding in places rose to 8 to 10 feet, to the top of chicken houses and barns. “The only things we could see from the air were the hog lagoons and hay barns,” he said. The lagoons, he added, held.
He said crop damage, though still being assessed, is massive. “We will have very little cotton, very little soybeans. We were just starting to harvest. Peanuts are also damaged.”
Troxler said the state has asked for federal disaster assistance. Requests include a multi-state appeal for accelerated Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) funds. “That program was put in place in 2016 and we are trying to expedite payments.”
He said farmers need to get checks in their hands soon, so they will be able to get financing for the 2019 crop. “Our farmers are in dire need.”
Loss will create an economic hardship on the state. “Agriculture is our No.1 industry,” Troxler said, “accounting for $87 billion. We are No.1 in tobacco, No.1 in all poultry receipts, No. 2 in hogs, No. 2 in Christmas trees and in the top five in strawberries, blueberries, and jalapenos.”
Corn, cotton, soybeans, livestock and peanuts are also important cash enterprises for North Carolina farmers.
Despite the damage, Troxler remains upbeat. “We got hurt but we will rebuild,” he said. “We will. We are limping along right now, but we are determined to come back strong. We will have a great 2019. We have to have the best year ever, and we will work toward that. Farmers do not want a handout, but the farmers in northeast North Carolina need capital infusion to help finance the next crop.”
He moved on to nuisance lawsuits, especially the recent decision against Smithfield Farms swine operations. The company was sued for creating unpleasant living conditions for neighbors.
Troxler said the North Carolina legislature is addressing the issue to offer some protection for agriculture.
“They say food production is a nuisance,” Troxler said. “It’s not, it’s a blessing. Nuisance is a matter of opinion. This is nothing but a money grab.”
He also noted that the diminishing population in rural areas means less representation in legislatures for agriculture. “We have to find a way to deal with it.”
Troxler said tobacco was hit hard by the retaliatory tariffs from China. “The No. 1 crop damaged by the tariffs was flue cured tobacco. And the law prohibits government incentives to tobacco. We had been successful in getting North Carolina products into China’s markets,” he said.
He said NAFTA has been good for North Carolina and expressed pleasure that an agreement has been achieved with Canada and Mexico.
“But we are not in TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) and the Pacific Rim is vitally important to agriculture. We need to find some way to get an agreement.”