Florence damages affect NC hog farms

Hurricane Florence’s recent impact of heavy winds and rainfall on the east coast, particularly in North Carolina, has reignited discussion of the mechanisms of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation farming and the environmental impacts CAFO farms project when combined with weather events like Florence.

“As far as what impact Florence has had, it’s still, I think, really soon to know,” said Farm Manager Nick Mangili. “I imagine there is a very huge impact in that area, because down by Wilmington and Sampson and Dublin counties, there are very high concentrations of hog farms. When you talk about having a high concentration and the level of flooding that’s expected, it can be disastrous.”

Also known as hog farms, CAFOs allow its owners and operators to invest more in the production of mass quantities of milk, eggs, meat and other animal-based products while spending less on the proper treatment of by-product wastes.

Improper treatment increases the vulnerability of such wastes being introduced into the surrounding environment as contaminants.

“Flooding, no matter what, is going to be very damaging,” said Assistant Professor of Geology Holly Peterson. “In terms of CAFOs themselves, the issue is mostly with the bacteria that is part of or in the lagoons, and in the waste from CAFOs. You know, you’ve got hundreds or thousands, depending on the kind of farm, of animals all living in this small space and they all make a lot of waste.”

In addition to the effects on CAFOs, Florence also presented a serious threat to many farming operations in North Carolina. With some models predicting up to 10 inches of rain, the hurricane had the potential to do significant damage to large and small farms alike.

“We were very lucky that we’ve only had to deal with the amount of rain that we had,” Mangili said. “We didn’t have any trees blow down, we had a little bit of washing out in a spot of the garden that traditionally does do that, just because it is a low point. Relatively speaking, we were pretty lucky, and the farm made it out safely.”

Although there was no significant damage to Guilford’s farm over the week, the impacts of Florence in North Carolina’s coastal areas are marked by both environmental and economic consequences that may pose challenges to quick economic rehabilitation and recovery, especially with the disruption and loss of jobs amongst farm workers.

“There was also discussion about how migrant workers and low-wage workers are out of jobs now because the crops they would have been helping harvest, or would have been working to harvest, are no longer there,” Mangili said. “So some of those folks that have visas will have to work on trying to find another place to work.”

Peterson discussed the effects of flooding and CAFO farming, bringing the widespread effects of CAFOs on surrounding populations into perspective.

“Where most of the CAFOs in North Carolina are, are down on the coastal plain,” Peterson said. “So North Carolina has the Blue Ridge on the west side, high mountains, the piedmont where we are, and then the coastal plain. The coastal plain is flat, and that’s where all the flooding happens.

“And so where CAFOs are concentrated is also where all of the flooding happens and there are major social justice issues because they also happen to be in poor areas so the people that are going to be affected by this flooding with pathogens in the water are going to be disproportionately lower economic, marginalized groups in general.”

Located in Rockingham County, Pine Trough Branch Farm is one farm that is doing the exact opposite of CAFOs, raising animals in a cruelty-free and more environmental manner. According to Pine Trough Branch Farm’s website, the farm seeks to grow “beyond-organic vegetables and highest-quality meat from animals born and raised on pasture and forest land.”

Owner-operator of Pine Trough Branch Farm Worth Kimmel discussed the environmental implications of CAFO farming.

“CAFO farming is clearly a system that’s susceptible to natural disaster such as this one,” Kimmel said. “I think they’re in a situation down east, and a lot of places right now, where animals are dying from lack of feed. And not having utilities to keep those facilities climate controlled is also another huge issue, just not relying on natural systems.”

The environmental and health hazards brought about by the combination of CAFOs and flooding emphasize the need for consciousness in daily decision-making as a community.

“We at Guilford need to be aware of what our responsibilities are for our downstream neighbors and recognizing that our electricity use, our transportation choices and our eating habits can impact, very greatly, the health and lives of the people downstream of us who are being exposed to unhealthy conditions and life-threatening conditions, either from hurricanes and from other results of those, connected with CAFOs,” Peterson said. “It’s something that we need to be aware of as we make decisions.”