SALEMBURG — While visiting Fann Farm’s office, Bob Etheridge did not hold back as he spoke about heavy downpours and the headache it’s giving local farmers.
“Every county east of I-95 got hit pretty hard,” Etheridge said.
Etheridge, the executive director for North Carolina’s Farm Service Agency, met with a small group of local farmers to discuss crop damage from excess rain from the previous weeks. The stop at the Sampson County farm was part of a tour, which began in Duplin County Friday morning. During the meeting, he brought up the spring season, which was cold and wet, and hot, dry summer weather. Financial matters related to the weather, equipment and crops.
Kent Fann of Fann Farms chimed in and discussed stressed crops such as tobacco, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Late September and early October gives farmers an optimal window for harvest since the commodity is at it’s best quality.
“Then we had 12 days of rain and two weeks,” Fann said about not being able to work.
“You’re trying to save the crop you got in the field, but at the same time, you’re destroying next year’s crop because you destroy the soil structure that we work so hard to preserve,” he noted.
But a lot of the problems will not stop there. Frost may become a problem in the near future.
“It’s a double-edged sword, perfect storm or whatever you want to say,” Fann said. “It has been a perfect storm for as the crops and getting them out of the field.”
During the past several years, commodity prices have plummeted. Some of the crops mentioned included corn, soy beans and peanuts, which are sold on the look of the shells. Fann mentioned how at least 75 percent of peanuts fall of the vine when shook, which is not a good thing. Excessive use of machinery such as peanut picker combine is another issue for the farm.
To recover from a year such as this, Fann said it may take more than three years to recover the soil structure. Financially, it may take about 10 years.
On Friday morning, Etheridge said federal officials planned to send out notices to farmers in North Carolina and South Carolina, encouraging them to contact their local farm service offices regarding the weather and their losses. Back in the late 1990s, he said the state appropriated funds out of Washington, D.C. to help with problems.
“That was a big help because there were a lot of farmers that went under,” Fann said. “If we don’t get some help this year, there’s going to be tremendous amount of farmers that aren’t going to make it this year.”
Other farmers in attendance such as Brent Jackson and Roy Williams of the Jackson Farming Company believe it may be another two weeks or even several months before they know how bad the storm was in this area. Like Fann, Jackson had the same problem with peanut crops.
“When you pick up those vines, the peanuts are left on the ground,” Jackson said about peanuts.
The farmers discussed how the southern end of Sampson County got hit the hardest. Jackson mentioned that Sampson County had about 8 inches of rain.
For both young and older farmers, Etheridge stressed how farming is their life. He believes the public needs to know about the work of farmers such as Fann and how it ends up on grocery store shelves. Fann added how crops from the United States are the safest in the world, according to his research.
“Those fresh vegetables come from places like Sampson and Duplin counties and all over this country,” Etheridge said. “They’re the ones who have a huge gamble and probably get less return on what they get than anyone else in the chain.”
Near the end of the meeting, he continued to stress the sacrifices made by farmers who spend long days working an dealing with Mother Nature.
“It’s hard work, it’s honorable work, but it’s very risky,” Etheridge said.
“It’s a way of life,” Fann said. “You devote your heart, soul and your whole financial future is devoted to the farm.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.