Hurricane Irene subjected crops in northeast North Carolina and across the eastern third of Virginia to six to eight hours of howling wind and up to 16 in. of rain. Though there was damage, the consensus is that agriculture in the region fared much better than expected.
In Pasquotank County, NC, Extension Agriculture Agent Al Wood says he feared catastrophic crop damage after being battered for eight to 10 hours with winds that packed 60-75-mph gusts and torrential rainfall. “I was definitely expecting the worst when I went out to look at crops in the area,” he says.
Severe drought had delayed crops and there was still an unusually high number of corn acres left to be harvested. Corn withstood the storm much better than expected Wood says.
How much damage to the remaining corn crop remains to be seen, but Wood says from first look it appears to be minimal.
There was also relatively little damage to cotton, which for the most part had few open bolls. Had the storm hit a few weeks later, with a high percentage of open bolls, the combination of wind and rain would have likely taken a much, much higher toll, Wood says.
Soybeans also benefited from late planting and late maturity. There were some soybean fields that had leaves stripped off and some were blown over by the high winds, but all in all, Wood says the soybean crop appears to have survived the storm much better than he expected.
Farther up the coast in southeast Virginia, veteran crop consultant Wendell Cooper says cotton losses are likely to be in the 100-200-lb./acre range. “Our cotton belt got anywhere from 5.5 to 15 in. of rain in a short period of time. The cotton fields I’ve looked at here in Suffolk County got 12 in. of rain, and I estimate the grower will lose 150 lbs./acre,” Cooper says.
He adds that the loss of cotton yield will likely track closely with the amount of rainfall. “I don’t know of any cotton that has been defoliated and most of our cotton is a little behind because of the drought, so for the cotton that survived the storm, the expectations for a good crop are still high,” Cooper adds.
Though it’s hard to imagine during the process of cleaning up after the storm, soybeans may turn out to be a net gain from the heavy rainfall. “I know that’s hard for farmers to believe right now, but in the long run, I think our soybean crop will have a net gain from the storm,” he notes.
Cooper agrees with Wood that there is more corn left to be harvested than usual in the region, but it seems to have survived the storm in good shape.
“I have one farmer I work with who hasn’t been able to get to his farm from his home, but one of his workers checked the field and told the grower he would be pleasantly surprised at how well his corn crop withstood the storm,” the Virginia crop consultant says.
Given the dire possibilities from earlier in the week of being hit with a Category 4 hurricane, farmers from eastern Georgia to the Del Marva Peninsula had done all they could to get ready for the storm.
Though Mother Nature played the biggest role in sparing crops, there is little doubt the damage was reduced by farmers who moved quickly to batten down equipment and facilities and to harvest crops that were even marginally ready as the storm approached.
Though the final tally on damage from the storm won’t come until crops are harvested, it does appear the damage will be much less than expected in the Upper Southeast.