Farmers hit hard by Dorian, Ag Commissioner visits Washington, Belhaven

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

It’s shaping up to be another bad year for Beaufort County’s farmers, between the one-two punch of exceptionally dry conditions earlier this summer and impacts from Hurricane Dorian last week. The damage to crops this season makes the fifth year of six that local farmers have suffered losses due to hurricanes or other factors.

On Tuesday, North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler visited two Beaufort County farms by helicopter, stopping to talk with local farmers at Griffin Farms in Washington and Circle Grove Seeds in Belhaven. The commissioner’s visit came as part of a fact-finding mission to survey damage from Dorian and hear from farmers how the state can be of assistance.

“We’re seeing a lot of damage,” Troxler said. “Unfortunately, it comes at harvest time, when you’ve already spent all the money to grow the crops and now the crops are basically gone.”

Troxler said the repeated losses have added up for farmers statewide, making it difficult to survive. While exact losses from Dorian remain unknown, the commissioner said the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will be working with local Cooperative Extension offices to get a better feel for the damages.

TOUCH DOWN: Beaufort County farmer Archie Griffin, carrying umbrella, greets an entourage from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services after a pair of helicopters touch down at his farm on Monday. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)


As Hurricane Dorian began its approach toward eastern North Carolina, many local farmers went into overtime to harvest crops ahead of the storm. Even still, for farmers like Archie Griffin, of Griffin Farms, the losses couldn’t be avoided.

“We started with a tough year getting the crops in,” Griffin said. “We go through a drought after the crops are finally planted, and then we finally have a bit of a comeback period. Here now at harvest time, ready to harvest, crops are at their peak time to harvest, they’re most susceptible to weather damage, and we have a hurricane come through. I’d say this year has been a culmination of all your worst scenarios possible.”

Specific impacts remain to be seen and, while Beaufort-Hyde County Cooperative Extension Director Rod Gurganus says the full extent of the damage is unclear, corn and tobacco will likely have the biggest issues, with soybean and cotton yields depending on a variety of factors.

Flashback almost a year, and local farmers were reeling from Hurricane Florence. In response, the N.C. General Assembly established the Hurricane Florence Agricultural Disaster Program of 2018, a one-time assistance program for growers impacted by that storm. In December of last year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill providing $240 million in direct assistance to farmers. The program was unique nationwide.

“That was kind of a bridge program to help people get to this year, hope for good weather, hope for good yields and hope for good prices, but unfortunately, Dorian has washed the bridge away,” Troxler said.

Adding to the economic stresses for farmers, an ongoing trade war with China on the national level has resulted in new tariffs on American agricultural goods in that country, hurting prices in international markets.

HARVEST: Tobacco stalks stand bare in the field after a mad rush by local farmers to harvest their crops. While some farmers were able to harvest in the week before the hurricane, others were not so fortunate. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)


While hurricanes and market forces are beyond the control of the average person, Griffin and Gurganus point to two ways people can help North Carolina farmers facing these threats to their livelihood — buy local and show you care. When shopping, Griffin recommends looking for local brands and buying those made in North Carolina.

Gurganus, whose agency is in the business of supporting farmers, stressed the importance of trying to understand their situation and lending moral support during a hard time.

“All these things are kind of culminating into kind of a tough situation for farmers,” Gurganus said. “When you see them, and they’ve got a look on their face, an encouraging word, a pat on the back, a handshake, those can go a long way.”

“It’s not only a physical burden,” Griffin added. “It’s an emotional burden. It’s a mental burden. A lot of farmers now are being forced to part ways with land that has been in their family for generations. Farmers are being forced to do what they can to ensure that their operation continues on.”