Despite dire predictions from environmental groups, North Carolina farmers were well prepared for Hurricane Matthew when it arrived in October 2016. Even with record rainfall, only one lagoon experienced structural damage – and on a farm that had not housed any animals for more than five years.

An additional 14 lagoons that were inundated with floodwater — compared to 55 during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 — but more than 3,750 other lagoons avoided any flooding.

Following Hurricane Matthew, the Division of Water Resources conducted extensive monitoring of waterways across eastern North Carolina. It reached the following conclusion:

“After reviewing the data collected, and comparing that to precipitation amounts, river levels and known areas of flooding, the overall impacts of Hurricane Matthew on surface water quality were initially minimal and temporary, and the long-term effects appear to be similar to previous storms and long-term historical conditions. While many eastern North Carolina areas were inundated by floodwaters and incidents of spills, breaches or waste facility shutdowns were reported, the amount of water discharged into the river basins resulted in a diluting effect, which primarily resulted in lower than normal concentrations of various pollutants.”

Other effects of Matthew were devastating, with the loss in North Carolina of 26 lives and more than $1 billion in damage. Municipal waste systems failed across the eastern part of the state, spilling more than 154 million gallons of raw, untreated human waste into the state’s waterways.

Buyout program continues

The pork industry has continued to worked closely with the state of North Carolina and individual hog farmers to mitigate the risk of flooding on farms during extreme weather events.

The N.C. Swine Floodplain Buyout Program, created in 1999, has invested more than $18 million to close 103 hog lagoons located in the 100-year floodplain. An additional 231 out-of-service lagoons were permanently closed through grants from the N.C. Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation.

This year, the pork industry helped secure nearly $5 million in additional funding from the state and federal sources for another round of voluntary buyouts of swine farms located in the 100-year floodplain. This funding will be used to close lagoons and acquire voluntary conservation easements that allow the farmer to retain farm ownership. Land within the easements can no longer be used for animal agriculture but may be used for growing row crops, planting trees and other low-intensity agriculture activities.

“We worked hard to secure this funding because our members care deeply about the land and water,” said Andy Curliss, CEO of the North Carolina Pork Council, said earlier in 2018. “This closure program, which has been unanimously supported by our board of directors, is a profound example of the many efforts by the pork industry in North Carolina to reduce even the possibility of harm.”

The N.C. Pork Council recognized the effectiveness of the buyout program following Hurricane Matthew and immediately began seeking funding to continue the program, which had not received any new funding since 2007.

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler committed to seek a federal grant and matching funds to support the buyout program.

Earlier this year, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded a $2.49 million grant to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Soil and Water Conservation. Total funding of about $5 million for the program will be administered by NCDA&CS.