“This is a very preliminary estimate and could change as we receive more reports from counties affected by the storm,” says Britt Cobb, N.C. interim commissioner of agriculture. “The bulk of the damage appears to be to crops, structures and equipment. It will likely take some time to get a more complete picture of the total impact of this storm on our agricultural community, because of the widespread power outages and disrupted phone service to many areas.”

Cotton and soybeans were among the crops suffering the most damage from the Category 2 hurricane.

Cotton sustained about $44 million damage; soybeans, $21 million damage, says Bob Murphy, state statistician at the North Carolina Agricultural Statistics Division. Losses to fruits and vegetables are estimated at $11 million while the preliminary damage estimate for tobacco is $6 million.

Some $23 million in damages occurred to farm structures.

Counties in the northeast section of the state got hammered after Isabel came ashore near Morehead City and swung north and east into Virginia.

Perquimans County reported almost $21 million in damage; Chowan County reported more than $17 million in damage; and Hyde County reported more than $12 million in damage, Murphy says.

Reports from the 40 North Carolina counties affected by the storm were expected by the end of the week. County damage assessment committees were busy getting a picture of the damage. Many areas in the affected counties were without power or telephone.

In the weeks leading up to the hurricane, farmers had been working around the clock harvesting corn and tobacco. About two-thirds of the North Carolina corn crop was in the bin and more than three-fourths of the flue-cured tobacco crop was curing or had been sold when Hurricane Isabel hit.

In 1999, hurricanes Dennis and Floyd caused more than $856 million in agricultural damage. In 1996, Bertha and Fran caused about $866 million in damage to agricultural crops. Last year, drought caused $400 million in damages to North Carolina crops.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com