Despite media reports, hog farms fare well during hurricanes. After all, North Carolina is no stranger to hurricanes, and North Carolina pig farmers have become adept at preparing for the storms. Since Hurricane Floyd hit the state in 1999, the state has seen no less than 28 named storms, which hit the state with varying degrees of damage. No matter, farmers and their partner companies work hard in preparation for storms to make sure our animals are cared for during a storm, with storm prep starting well before the first warning from the weatherman. Here are some examples of how farms prepare and respond to natural disasters:
- Barns that are in flood-prone areas are cleared before a storm and the animals moved to higher ground.
- Feed bins are filled in advance of a storm, in preparation for possible days without road access. Most barns have automatic feeders.
- Generators are checked and fuel staged on site in case of extended power outages. This ensures that ventilation remains on and feeding systems can run.
- In many cases, farmers stay on the farm with their animals instead of at home with their families, especially on sow farms.
- Since Hurricane Floyd, we’ve seen very little animal mortality during storms. Most mortality is due to roof collapses from localized tornadoes or wind damage.
- Lagoon levels are managed throughout the year so the lagoon can handle the unpredictable nature of a hurricane. By law, each lagoon must be able to handle 19 inches of rain, but most farms allow for much more.
- Hurricane Florence was a 1,000-year rainfall event and more than 98% of our 2,200 permitted lagoons had no problems, despite the fact that lagoons are only designed and permitted for a normal 24-hour rain event.
- More than 100 lagoons in the 100-year flood plain have been closed in the last 20 years in partnership with state agencies.
- Even in the few cases of lagoon breeches or overtopping, during a significant rainfall event, the added water from the rainfall is having a diluting effect on wherever it is falling. Current US EPA Administrator and former NCDEQ Sec. Michael Regan pointed out the dilution impacts in statements following Hurricane Florence. “We are really focused on our (municipal) wastewater treatment facilities because there are probably orders of magnitude more human waste that has escaped these wastewater treatment facilities than what has escaped these pig lagoons.”
How do farmers bring down lagoon levels? Does this create runoff?
- Each farm operates with a customized nutrient management plan designed to maximize crop uptake of the applied nutrients to minimize opportunities for runoff.
- The conditions of these nutrient management plans are clearly defined in the permit terms established by the NCDEQ.
- Hog farmers perform soil tests and waste water analyses to know what nutrients they are applying. The farmer can only apply those nutrients in rates the crops can utilize. The crop or field cannot be dormant.
- The permit requires buffer strips around the spray field, and setbacks from creeks and rivers to further minimize the chances of run-off.
- Farmers are only allowed to do land application during specific times of the year as outlined in their nutrient management plans.
Would covered lagoons make a difference?
- Yes, anything that prevents rainwater from entering the lagoon is a positive step forward.