RALEIGH, N.C. – Severe flooding in North Carolina continues to challenge the agriculture industry there as stakeholders attempt to assess the damage wrought by Hurricane Florence. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects major to record river flooding to continue across the Carolinas in the days and weeks to come as river systems in the region take on significant rainfall from the storm.

The North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) said Wednesday that inspectors were waiting for flood waters to recede to safe levels before initiating site visits. Inspectors are contacting companies to determine which areas will be prioritized.

“This was an unprecedented storm with flooding expected to exceed that from any other storms in recent memory,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, who conducted an aerial survey of damage on Sept. 18. “We know agricultural losses will be significant because the flooding has affected the top six agricultural counties in our state. The footprint of flooding from this storm covers much of the same area hit by flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which only worsens the burden on these farmers.”

The NCDA&CS reported preliminary livestock losses of 3.4 million poultry and roughly 5,500 hogs.

Laurel, Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms Inc. said the company has received no reports of serious injuries or loss of life among its employees and poultry growers, but the company said that 70 broiler houses out of 880 in North Carolina had flooded resulting in the loss of 2.1 million chickens. Sanderson said 1.35 million were in the company’s St. Pauls, North Carolina big bird deboning division, and 755,000 were destined for the company’s tray pack division in Kinston.

“I continue to be pleased that our people remained safe during this catastrophic storm,” said Joe F. Sanderson, Jr., chairman and CEO. “Those who have been displaced, lost their homes or had their lives disrupted will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers, and we will do whatever we can to help them recover from this storm.

“Everyone at Sanderson Farms is deeply saddened by the loss of live birds, whose well-being has been entrusted to our care, especially our farmers and live production employees who care for our birds on a daily basis,” Sanderson continued. “We take very seriously our responsibility for the well-being of the animals we raise, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect those birds still threatened by rising flood waters.”

The company said roadways around Lumberton and St. Pauls were impassable and closed. However, Sanderson employees were able to reach most of the farms isolated by flood waters to ensure the chickens on those farms receive adequate care and feed.

Sanderson previously reported that its processing facilities, feed mill and hatcheries in North Carolina had not sustained any significant damage. Also, the Kinston processing plant resumed one shift of operations on Sept. 18.

The loss of 5,500 hogs was “…the result of all aspects of the storm, including wind damage and flooding,” the North Carolina Pork Council said in a statement. “We are saddened by this outcome.” However, the NCPC noted that farmers moved thousands of animals before Hurricane Florence made landfall.

The swine losses from Hurricane Florence topped losses of 2,800 during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 but are far below the 21,000 swine lost during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

“We do not expect the losses to increase significantly, though floodwaters continue to rise in some locations and circumstances may change,” NCPC said. “Our farmers are working tirelessly now amid persistent and severe logistical challenges to continue the delivery of feed, to ensure power is operating on farms (as many use wells for water), and to reach the barns to provide proper animal husbandry. We believe deeply in our commitment to provide care for our animals amid these incredibly challenging circumstances.”

In addition to animal losses, the North Carolina pork industry also is dealing with impacts to hog waste lagoons. On Sept. 18, NCPC reported:

  • One lagoon breach on a small farm in Duplin County. “An on-site inspection showed that solids remained in the lagoon. The roof of an empty barn on the farm was also damaged.”
  • Three lagoons with other structural damage;
  • Nine lagoons inundated by flood waters; and
  • Thirteen lagoons at capacity due to rainfall that appear to have overtopped. “Others are at capacity and efforts are being taken to respond within state regulations and guidance,” NCPC said.