Florence Floods Crop Fields, Washing Away Tobacco and Cotton

(Bloomberg) -- The record-setting, still-rising floods unleashed across North Carolina by deadly Hurricane Florence are soaking crops after the storm wreaked havoc on cotton and tobacco.

The number of cotton fields rated in good or excellent condition fell by 14 percentage points to 48 percent as of Sunday from a week earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report Monday. Conditions also declined for corn and soybeans, and agriculture officials in the state cited damage from wind and rains to tobacco plants.

Florence Floods Crop Fields, Washing Away Tobacco and Cotton

No one is certain just how many tobacco, corn, soybean, cotton, peanut and sweet potato fields are still under water or experiencing flooding, said Lynda Loveland, spokeswoman for North Carolina Farm Bureau. It will take several days to properly assess crop damage as the water still needs to recede, she said in an email.

There’s “just too much devastation to get a good handle on it right now, ” Jack Scoville, senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group, said by email.

Blown Away

Kim K. LeQuire, co-owner of Kornegay Family Farms and Produce, said the operation in Princeton, North Carolina had seen at least 14 inches (36 centimeters) of rain as of Sunday and was still getting more showers. Some leaves on tobacco plants were blown off their stalks amid the strong winds and were lying in puddle-filled fields. While about 70 percent of her farm’s tobacco crop had been harvested before the hurricane, the damage affects some of their best-quality supply.

Fields of sweet potatoes were also waterlogged, but she said the root vegetable is a hardy crop that may be able to withstand the rough conditions if soils drain soon.

“There’s definitely going to be some issues, but I’m not going to call the 2018 North Carolina sweet potato crop a wash,” LeQuire said.

Most of the bolls on about 2,000 acres of cotton plants had not yet opened, but the fiber on the ones that had were drenched by rain and will be very poor, she said.

Florence Floods Crop Fields, Washing Away Tobacco and Cotton

Alan Underwood, president of Texas-based Underwood Cotton Co., said for the state’s cotton there’s “going to be a reduction in yield.” Water pulls out the oil in the fiber, reducing the yield and will also “be detrimental to the quality,” he said.

Some of the counties harder hit by Florence are located on the southern end of North Carolina’s largest tobacco growing region, said Matthew Vann, assistant professor and tobacco extension specialist at North Carolina State University. Other large tobacco-growing counties also suffered damage, but not the amount of flooding that’s being reported further south, he said.

“There is a fairly wide range in terms of severity when you look specifically at the tobacco growing regions,” said Vann, noting it’s too early to estimate total losses.

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