Hurricane Dorian Hits NC Tobacco Farmers

Sep 16, 2019

File photo of tobacco plants on Strickland Farms.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

North Carolina tobacco farmers say Hurricane Dorian destroyed at least 20 to 25 percent of their total harvest, hurting the state's overall tobacco industry, according to David Thomas, of the U.S. Tobacco Cooperative.

“It is taking a toll on the tobacco production in North Carolina and the last three years have been really stressful on tobacco farmers,” Thomas said.

Farms in about 15 counties in North Carolina were severely affected. This includes Sampson and Duplin counties, where most of the tobacco production in the state happens.

Thomas says it's difficult for farmers to take precautions before a hurricane without causing more damage.

“The tobacco has to reach a certain ripeness before you pull it,” he said. “Because if you pull it too soon then the leaves will be immature and it will be less desirable.”

Hurricanes also bring salt inland through storm surge. That can further degrade the quality of tobacco plants.

In a normal season, farms would have the rest of this month to complete harvesting. But Thomas says many farmers will probably not finish gathering the tobacco left in the field this year.

Many farms also grow and sell different crops like sweet potatoes. Those farmers will have to rely on those crops and insurance.