Scars from Hurricane Florence remain evident at Overman Farms.
A large washout that resembles a dry creek bed cuts through a struggling wheat field.
Other less evident scars include the farm’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in crop losses.
Standing in that washout Tuesday afternoon, Lorenda Overman and Gov. Roy Cooper talked about the plight of farmers devastated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and then just 20 months later by Hurricane Florence.
They talked as well about the need for state and federal assistance and concerns that the storms could spell the end for some farms.
Cooper was at the sixth-generation family farm off U.S. 13 to get a firsthand view of what a farm damaged by Florence looks like nearly five months later.
The farm received approximately $20,000 through the first funding round of the state’s $240 million Agricultural Disaster Relief Program of 2018. Overman said they are thankful for the help, but that the farm suffered $430,000 in losses because of Hurricane Florence.
“What I would like the governor to understand from his visit today is that we appreciate what he and the General Assembly have done to help so far, that that’s critical,” Overman said. “But also I would like for them to understand that the journey is not over, the job is not complete, and the bills have not been paid yet.
“While we don’t want to farm on government assistance, government subsidies, somehow we all have to come to the table and figure out a way that we can help control how much we sell our crops for. When you sell your crop below what it costs to raise your crop, that becomes pretty impossible to make ends meet. I would like for him to take back the message that we are not looking for charity. We are just looking for assistance to make it through this time.”
She said she also hopes Cooper will share that message with the general public — a message she hopes will resonate with the public.
The state has a lot more to do, Cooper said.
“Agriculture is critical to our economy in North Carolina,” he said. “Over the last few years, farmers in our state have taken blow after blow. Just here at this farm today we have seen the damage done, first by Hurricane Matthew and then just 20 some months later, Hurricane Florence. So many farmers now are trying to make that decision whether this is all worth it and whether they are going to stay in the business.
“It’s important to feeding our families and to our economy to have a strong farming community, and that is why we took the unprecedented step to pass legislation that provides direct assistance to farmers. I put it in my budget, and the legislature agreed, and we have about $240 million that is going to go out to North Carolina farmers to help them bridge this gap.”
Cooper said he hopes that federal help and the resiliency of North Carolina farmers will help keep a lot of farmers in business and continue the state’s strong multibillion-dollar farm economy.
The state is pushing hard to get them that help so they can make that decision, he said.
“We are concerned about what is happening on the federal level,” Cooper said. “This tariff war the United States is engaged in has ended up hurting farmers. They are worried about commodity prices right now. They go and invest all of this money, then they may have to end up selling their crops for less than what they put in it.”
“So this is a precarious time for farmers not only in North Carolina but across the country. We here in our state are stepping up for our farmers, and we are going to continue to do that.”
It is clear farmers need the help and farms can be looked at differently from other businesses, since they are a real core of the economy because so many other businesses rely on them being successful, Cooper said.
“Plus, it grows food and fiber for us here in North Carolina and around the world,” he said. “So I think it is important for us to make sure this industry is stabilized and that we are able to encourage enough of the farmers that they need to stay in it, not only for the good of their families but for our economy and our state.
“We are going to work to continue to do that.”
Even though it has been five months, the farm is still dealing with the damage and trying to pick up the pieces, Overman said.
“Since Sept. 14 when Hurricane Florence landed, we have been struggling to get our feet back under us and trying to recover from the damage that occurred,” she said. “You kind of start feeling like you are on an island and that you are the only one fighting that battle.
“Our total in damages from Hurricane Florence was about $430,000 between crops and path repairs, washouts and trees down.”
Overman said she thinks that the general population has repaired its damage, had insurance to cover expenses and has moved on.
“So it is nice to know that the North Carolina General Assembly is still thinking about ways that they might step up and help out to repair the (farm) damage,” she said.
Matthew dumped 18 inches of rain on the farm. Florence dropped 30 inches of rain.
The Overmans have two hog farms — a finishing floor where they grow about 21,000 hogs out to market size annually. They also have a sow farm where about 44,000 hogs are bred, gestated and birthed annually.
Damage on those farms was mostly path repairs. They spent $8,000 the day after Florence on a path trying to get trucks into the farms, so that employees could get to work and they could get feed to the animals.
The hog farms had some structural damage, but that was covered by insurance and is being repaired.
The Overmans also farm about 4,000 acres of row crops — about 1,400 acres of wheat and 1,600 acres each of corn and soybeans.
The wheat was harvested in May, so it was not affected by Florence.
However, it has been so wet since Florence that there is uncertainty in this spring’s wheat harvest.
Overman said they started the corn harvest early in an attempt to avoid a hurricane.
“We still lost about $80,000 of corn,” she said. “But the last week and a half before the storm, we were running the combines 24 hours a day. We had borrowed a combine, rented a combine. Everybody we know who could ride a combine was trying to pick our corn.”
The soybean crop had looked promising, but at least 30 percent or more was lost at a cost of about $240,000, she said.
The farm has 18 full-time employees, which means 18 families depend on the farm, she said.
“It is something you think about when you lay down at night,” she said. “If you allow yourself to think about it when you lay down at night, it will keep you up because you try to figure out how to pay that back damage but also how to pay this month’s bills and next month’s bills and meet the payroll.
“So you start looking for ways to borrow money to pay for the damage that occurred and that hole gets bigger because there is another debt, another liability that you have to pay back,” she said. “You also start looking for a way to borrow money to plant the next crop.”
Also looking forward to 2019, commodity prices are so low and the cost of production has gotten so high that it is hard to see a profit, she said.
“And that profit is how you would pay back those bills and those loans,” Overman said. “In talking with neighbors and farmers, there is such a quiet desperation on how to go forward. There are farmers that I know who have decided there is no future.
“They have decided to cut and run and try to pay the debt they owe and try not to incur more debt. In our situation, we have children working on the farm that have decided to make farming their livelihood. So we are trying to make sure that they have a future in agriculture and try to make sure we pay this month’s bills and next month’s bills. We just kind of put out the fire that is burning the brightest and then move on to the next fire.”
But for farmers, there is always eternal hope that next year will be better, she said.