After threatening to throw a real monkey wrench into the North Carolina, Virginia cotton harvest, Hurricane Earl simply brushed the state and caused very little damage to agricultural interests. Area growers were breathing a big sigh of relief following a tough growing season. This is one of a series of reports by Farm Press editors about the outlook for cotton and other row crops as the harvest approaches or is completed.
The big hurricane that couldn’t is the way one North Carolina Extension agricultural agent describes his county’s brush with Hurricane Earl.
The most rainfall from Hurricane Earl came more south than north along the North Carolina Coast. In general, the areas that needed rain the most got it from the storm and areas farther up the coast near the Virginia line, where recent rainfall had actually kept some farmers out of the field, received surprisingly little rain from the storm.
Earl pounded North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a few hours late Thursday night and early Friday morning, but rapidly moved northward at nearly 20 mph. The once huge and powerful storm lost its punch when it approached the Carolina Coast, and as predicted moved north and east away from land. For most North Carolina residents, and plenty of North Carolina farmers, avoiding damage from the storm produced a collective sigh of relief. For hard pressed North Carolina growers, trying to salvage a decent crop despite this year’s intense summer heat and drought, missing the wind and rain damage from Earl was a bonus.
In Pasquotank County, a scant 20-30 miles from the Coast, Extension Ag Agent Al Wood says they had wind in the 30-40 mile an hour range and less than an inch of rain from the storm.
Even nearer the Coast, Extension Ag Agent Mark Powell in Camden County says damage was minimal. “We got some wind gusts that blew down a few limbs and by hurricane standards fairly light rain. We were really lucky this time,” Powell says.
Farther down the coast in Hyde County where crops were in a particularly vulnerable stage, rainfall was heavier, but wind damage was less, virtually non-existent.
A big concern among growers was that Hurricane Earl would dump large amounts of rain on already soggy fields and delay defoliation of a large cotton crop. North Carolina Extension Agent Lewis Smith says the big concern was getting heavy rains over several days, which would have put growers in a situation of having a lot of re-growth in their cotton.
Smith, who is an Extension Ag Agent in Perquimans County in northeast North Carolina, says the cotton crop in his county is 2-3 weeks early.
With corn still waiting for harvest in many cases, wind damage to both crops would have been a bad situation. Plus, the delays in harvesting from heavy rainfalls would have created even more problems for growers.
Cotton in particular was vulnerable to the hurricane. The state’s Cotton Belt stretches up and down the coast and inland nearly to Raleigh. Once past the first two or three counties closest to the coast, there was virtually no wind or rain damage from the storm.
North Carolina’s crop year has been as surprising as the big miss from the big storm. Fortunately, Hurricane Earl was a good surprise.