Hurricane Irene caused hundreds of millions of dollars in crop damage, leaving some farms devastated, N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said this morning.
Troxler toured the state and spoke with affected farmers Sunday but said the extent of the damage and financial loss from high winds and flooding won't be known for at least several weeks. But damage to the $750-million-a-year tobacco crop alone will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
He noted that the Category 1 hurricane skirted eastern North Carolina just as farmers were preparing to harvest tobacco, corn, cotton and other crops.
"There will be total losses in some areas," Troxler said from his office in downtown Raleigh. "This is going to be a significant agricultural event in the state."
The storm-battered region east of Interstate 95 is the breadbasket of North Carolina's $70 billion-a-year agriculture industry, home to the majority of the state's corn, tobacco, soy, hog and turkey operations.
Most of the damage will be crop destruction, he said, but power outages will also cause poultry deaths at farms that experience failure of emergency backup generators.
Troxler said the state's farmers are typically federally insured for up to 65 percent of their losses. A federal declaration of disaster areas would allow farmers to take advantage of low interest loans to tide them over until next season.
It's not clear if the crop damage will affect consumer prices or the cost of ethanol fuel, Troxler said. About 40 percent of nation's corn crop is diverted from livestock feed to ethanol production.