Officials Survey Crop Damages
Hurricane Matthew might have been the death knell for many Eastern North Carolina farmers, according to federal officials touring devastated farms Thursday in Edgecombe County.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, said many farmers were already operating at a margin when the storm blew into town in early October.
“This is the 21st century, we've got to do better for our farmers,” Butterfield said.
One of those farmers is Ken Smith. Flood waters destroyed 200 acres of sweet potatoes on his farm at the end of St. James Street in Tarboro. The crops were valued at $1,800 an acre.
U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Michael Scuse said Eastern North Carolina farmers like Smith have been hit hard twice in two years.
“Farmers have had it rough,” Scuse said. “A lot of communities have lost everything.”
Scuse said he has read reports and viewed photos, but he wanted to see the damage firsthand. He said he's looking to see what can be done to help farmers now and at changes to improve future responses.
Scuse said whatever help farmers receive will be just enough to keep their heads above water.
“Programs don't mean profits, it's just enough to get a farmer by another year,” Scuse said.
Butterfield said he is pushing a robust Farm Bill through Congress.
“Save the farm, save the farmer,” Butterfield said. “The federal government is engaged and cares about the plight of the farmer.”
Butterfield said a lot of people seem to think food is manufactured at the grocery store, but food comes from farms. Many farmers lost the entire crop they use to feed the world and thereby feed their families.
N.C. Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Bob Etheridge said he's been to countless farms where the crops were completely destroyed.
“There's not a farmer east of Interstate 95 that hasn't been affected,” Etheridge said.
Scuse said although North Carolina is a major producer of sweet potatoes, he doesn't think a shortage will occur at Thanksgiving this year.
Recently, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated 39 counties as primary natural disaster areas in North Carolina. All qualified farmers in the designated areas are eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. The USDA also offers a wide variety of resources to provide assistance before, during and after disasters. In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other disaster-focused organizations, USDA created a Disaster Resource Center website, utilizing an innovative online searchable knowledgebase.