19 Sep, 2018FORTUNE.COM
Hurricane Florence has killed at least 37 people and left 343,000 without power in North Carolina. But its impact on farmers is just starting to be felt.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs were killed by Florence. That’s double the amount that were killed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the numbers are expected to continue climbing.
That could have a ripple effect on people’s wallets for at least the short term. Poultry is North Carolina’s biggest agricultural industry, contributing over $36 billion to the state’s economy and employing around 127,000 people. The state is the country’s third-largest poultry producer and second-largest hog producer.
That many fowl fatalities could result in a wholesale price spike. Sanderson Farms, for example, says 1.7 million broiler chickens have died so far as a result of the flooding, nearly 10% of its brood. And over 6 million are isolated by flood waters, so can’t be fed. (Perdue Farms says it dodged any substantial losses from the storm.)
While the hog fatality levels are lower, farmers are more worried about the flood waters’ effect on hog lagoons, where pig waste is treated and broken down to create fertilizer. Some of those are already overflowing and many farmers are unable to assess the state of their lagoons at present.
The waste lagoons could pose a potential environmental contamination risk, because swine waste contains everything from salmonella to E. coli.