Heroes of Hurricane Florence: Pig Farmers Rise to Challenge

A hog farm is inundated with floodwaters from Hurricane Florence near Trenton, N.C.
( AP, Steve Helber )

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Florida and Georgia Monday to see the damage caused by Hurricane Michael up close. The storm claimed at least 19 lives last week, with dozens of people still missing. An all-too similar visit took place last month in North and South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence. 

The swine industry in this region is still recovering after Hurricane Florence dumped more than 8 trillion gallons of water on North Carolina alone. The heroic actions of pig farmers who rose to the challenge to provide the best possible care to their pigs during this historic storm did not go unnoticed. 

Farmers slept in the barn with their animals to ensure their safety, delivered feed by the bucketful when automatic feed systems were knocked off-line, and traveled by boat to check on their barns surrounded by floodwaters, reported the North Carolina Pork Council.

Farm workers in Sampson County feeding in immediate wake of storm.
Farm workers in Sampson County feeding in immediate wake of storm.

The storm’s record-shattering rainfalls dumped more than two feet of rain across a vast area, including several of North Carolina’s largest hog producing counties. Some areas saw as much as 34 inches of rain. According to the North Carolina Pork Council, the impact on hog farms ($661,100) was a relatively limited component of the more than $1.1 billion in damage and losses to the agricultural community.

Ag Commodity Losses

“Our pig farmers were well prepared for the storm and came together in its wake to provide feed and fuel to those farms in need immediately following the storm,” said the North Carolina Pork Council.

Emily Byers, a swine veterinarian with Prestage Farms in Clinton, N.C., said their company was very fortunate to have minimal losses and damage considering the depth of the storm.

“I have never seen so much rain in my life,” Byers said. “Many farming areas received over 2 feet of rain in 3-4 days. It was a physically, emotionally, and mentally draining experience to go through a storm like that. I am so proud of our team for going the extra mile to make sure our animals were ok during the storm.”

The storm resulted in the loss of approximately 5,500 swine across the state, primarily caused by a combination of wind damage, power outage and floodwaters. Farmers moved more than 20,000 pigs to higher ground before the storm in a coordinated effort across the industry which greatly reduced animal mortality. 

Although environmental groups immediately tried to bring a focus to treatment lagoons, the North Carolina Pork Council reported that more than 98% of North Carolina’s 3,300 active lagoons did not experience significant issues. 

However, six farms with anaerobic treatment lagoons suffered structural damage, eight farms saw inundation of the lagoon with floodwaters, and 28 farms with lagoons experienced overflows from the rainwater during the hurricane, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Structural damage impacts ranged from breach in three instances to “cracks” in the dike wall or less significant structural impacts.

Since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the North Carolina pork industry has worked hard to protect farms from storms like Hurricane Florence. More than 325 hog lagoons located in the 100-year floodplain have been permanently closed in the past 20 years.

The North Carolina Pork Council has supported a voluntary buyout of farms located in the 100-year floodplain and is pleased that Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture have secured $5 million in state and federal funding to continue this program. It is estimated that about 60 hog farms are currently located in the 100-year floodplain, based on mapping reviews.

Michael Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said, “We are really focused on our wastewater treatment facilities because there are probably orders of magnitude more human waste that has escaped these wastewater treatment facilities than what has escaped these hog lagoons.”