It takes a lot to distract attention in North Carolina in October from the state fair. But this year, Hurricane Matthew managed to do it. By the time that the fairgrounds had been cleared of debris and the fair opened, five days after Matthew had struck on Oct. 8, the evidence of the storm was largely gone in Raleigh.
But to the east, downstream flooding had brought farming and indeed most normal commerce to a halt, and the water problems were still going on when the fair closed on Oct. 23.
Like most agriculture people attending the fair, State Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler was in a state of shock.
“I can’t call this just a disaster,” he said during a break at the fair’s tobacco stringing contest on Oct. 14. “It is much worse than a disaster. I have to call this an agricultural catastrophe.”
At the time, Troxler had just completed a series of helicopter observations of the damage.
“The magnitude of the damage was mind boggling. Basically, it looked like a lake from Smithfield to the coast. It seemed that any soil that was close to a river was under water. It will take a long time recovering.”
By the way, Tar Heels had already had their fill of hurricanes in 2016 even before Matthew arrived. “First, Tropical Storm Hermine brushed the northeastern corner of the state [Sept. 2 and 3], causing significant flooding and problems for farmers,” he said in a report during the fair. “Then, remnants of Tropical Storm Julia blanketed much of Eastern North Carolina [starting Sept. 21]. The final, devastating insult came from Hurricane Matthew, with its uncertain path but sweeping reach and catastrophic flooding.”
Peanuts, cotton, soybeans and sweet potatoes were among the crops that were still in the fields. Just a little tobacco remained. Most other field crops had been harvested.
“[But] most in farming know that just because a crop is harvested doesn’t mean it is out of trouble,” the commissioner added. “We have received reports of tobacco farms that lost power to curing barns, putting their crop at risk.”
He was also concerned about livestock and poultry in flooded areas. “To date, we have confirmed the loss of 1.9 million chickens and turkeys,” he said, acknowledging there would be more. “Flooded and damaged roads have created challenges in moving feed and water to livestock operations, moving animals to market and moving fuel for generators.”
How tobacco fared
Several farmers discussed the fate of their crops during the fair’s annual tobacco-stringing contest on Oct. 14. One was Bennie Lee of Sanford, NC, who volunteered at the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. stand at the fair. He said his location about 40 miles southwest of Raleigh missed the worst of rains, although not by much. He still had soybeans and milo in the field, and both crops looked to be eminently good. He didn’t have any flooding.
His primary crop is tobacco, and he had finished harvesting it three weeks before the storm. It was a little disappointing.
“We had some drowning in the field early in the season, then it got very hot,” Lee said. “The leaf was sunbaked, and we didn’t get the quality cure we could have.”
Carl Watson, tobacco research specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture tobacco research station in Oxford, brought tobacco produced at the station for use in the stringing contest.
“We still have some in the field,” he said. “We lost a lot when the rains [associated with the hurricane] came.”
But the greater damage came from the long hot spell, which left many leaves with “burnt tails and green shoulders”—the ends of the leaves were so deteriorated that they looked like they’d been burned while the other end of the leaf which was closest the stalk had failed to ripen.
Thomas Shaw of Henderson, NC, also attended the stringing competition. His location, a little more than 40 miles north of Raleigh, was spared the most intense rains of Hurricane Matthew, but nevertheless there was plenty of it.
“We got seven to eight inches that day,” he remembered. “We had all our tobacco out of the field by then, but where tobacco was still growing, there was a problem with wind that knocked off some leaves.”
By the way, the winning team in the N.C. State Fair Tobacco Stringing Contest was the “Looping Fools”, made up of Sandy and Ken Jones of Maple Hill and Michael Sunday of Holly Ridge. They took home a prize of $250, a blue ribbon and a plaque. This was the fourth time the team has won the contest. Sandy Jones looped the stick of tobacco in 57.12 seconds, making it the only team to accomplish that under one minute.
Youth score big in livestock show
The young people who participated in the N. C. State Fair livestock shows earned a total of $166,500 for the top steers, barrows, lambs, goats and turkeys in the Junior Livestock Sale of Champions on Oct. 15.
“We are proud that so many businesses and organizations turned out to support the hard work of all these junior exhibitors,” said Troxler. “The money raised will go a long way towards college educations, scholarships and educational outreach.”
The grand champion junior market steer was shown by Caleb Burnett, 16, of Weaverville in western Carolina. Farm Bureau Insurance and Powers Great American Midway bought the animal for $30,000. The reserve champion was shown by Jacob Burleson, 17, also of Weaverville. It was bought by Harris Teeter for $16,000.
The grand champion Got to Be NC steer was shown by Issac Wallace, 18, of Franklin, also of western N.C. That steer was purchased by the Carlton and Lyndell A. Family Foundation, Farm Bureau Insurance, Carolina Stockyards and E.B. Harris Inc. for $18,000.
Farm Bureau Insurance purchased the grand champion lamb, which was also named the grand champion Got to Be NC market lamb for $16,500. It was shown by Abigail Wilson, 13, of China Grove. Farm Credit Associations of North Carolina purchased the reserve champion lamb shown by Cynthia Connolly, 14, of Mt. Ulla for $10,500.
Tractor Supply Company purchased the grand champion meat goat, which was also named grand champion Got to Be NC meat goat shown by Kali Mabe of Sandy Ridge for $15,750. The reserve grand champion meat goat shown by Caley Mayo of Whitakers was purchased by Iron Horse Auction Company and McBride Concessions for $9,000.
Hunter McMillen, 9, of Grandy showed the grand champion market barrow, which was purchased for $18,000 by the N.C. Pork Council, Smithfield Farmland, Hog Slat and Duplin Marketing.
The grand champion Got to Be NC and reserve grand champion barrow was shown by Emma Barrret, 11, of Pinetown. It was purchased for $18,500 by the N.C. Pork Council, Smithfield Farmland, Hog Slat and Duplin Marketing.
The grand champion turkey was shown by Cheyann Thomas of Randleman. Talley Farms purchased it for $9,250. Farm Bureau Insurance purchased the reserve champion turkey shown by Leah Thomas of East Bend for $5,000.
To begin the sale, auctioneer E.B. Harris of Warrenton auctioned off a livestock cane, with the proceeds going into the general livestock scholarship fund. Deborah Johnson had the winning bid of $900.
The youth receive 60 percent of the purchase amount, while the remaining 40 percent goes to support youth scholarships and livestock programs in North Carolina.
Following the auction of the grand and reserve grand champions, the remaining junior livestock animals were sold in a truckload auction.
Livestock Hall of Fame Inductees
Henry Kuykendall of Franklinville, William Hartsell Kirkman Jr. of Greensboro and the Stokes Family of Linwood were inducted into N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame in its 37th enshrinement ceremony on Oct. 16.