Washed Away: The Future of Farms in the East

COVE CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – Thousands are still dealing with the aftermath of the Hurricane Matthew natural disaster.

Businesses from all industries were impacted, some more than others. One of those still working to come back from significant flooding is the agriculture field.

Already the industry is struggling to survive, as fewer children are taking over their families farming industries.

Jason Jones dates his family farm back to the 1800s.

“I’m a sixth-generation farmer,” he said. “I grew up in it.”

Jones began working in tobacco while still in school. Now he tends 1,500 acres of land, growing everything from corn to soybeans and tobacco.

“It’s a good life,” acknowledged Jones. “It’s a challenging life.”

But lately, the challenges seem to outweigh the good.

In 2016, low crop prices along with devastating weather conditions created a perfect storm for agriculture across the state.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen an aging farming group and lack of a younger generation coming to fill their shoes as they retire,” explained Mike Carroll, Agriculture Extension Agent. “Commodity prices have been declining and, in the last three years, we’ve had 50 to 60 percent yield loss because of storm-related incidents.”

An example of that is flooding from Hurricane Matthew which destroyed crops throughout the east.

“Matthew was the nail in the coffin,” said Jones. “It devastated a considerable amount of corn and soybeans.”

According to the USDA, $19 million worth of crops were destroyed during Matthew. And over 1.9 million chickens and turkeys were killed.

For new farmers like John Kilpatrick, the flooding added an extra, unnecessary challenge.

“All this right here was destroyed,” said John Kilpatrick. “118 acres gone.”

Kilpatrick estimates water levels were between 12 and 15 feet on his land. He lost all of his soybeans, $20,000 worth.

“It really hurt to come out here and disc them all up,” said Kilpatrick.

There are still remnants of his once thriving soybeans in the field.

“Every year is a new challenge with weather and prices,” he said.

Young farmers struggle in ways established ones like Jones do not for land and credit.

Agriculture agents say the only way to help [is to] find a commodity to make farming worthwhile.

“We are looking at vegetable production of onions or tomatoes,” said Carroll. “The problem is we don’t have processing plants for them in our state.”

And as prices for corn and tobacco continue to fall, farmers like Jones and Kilpatrick have to make changes to simply survive.

“I’m not able to replace equipment or acquire land,” Jones said. “I’m thinking about not raising tobacco next year. I have to cut out what’s not profitable.”

Still, with all these challenges, they’re not even considering giving up.

“The challenges before us are great,” Jones said. “We hope to be able to withstand this storm.”

Farmers across the east can still apply for disaster insurance. It will cover crop losses in excess of 30 percent in those counties.

Fifteen counties in the east are eligible.

Already, there is $36 million in consolation requests across the state.

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