What is in this article?:
- Water management project saves North Carolina farmland
- Primary income source
- Sea level rise is main culprit
• Upon completion last summer, the (officially) 46-year project cost $13 million dollars, protects 24,000 acres of land and more than 7,000 acres of North Carolina’s most productive farmland.
NORTH CAROLINA State University Cooperative Extension Agent Mac Gibbs describes the loss of farmland to saltwater intrusion at a recent farm tour.
Primary income source
The primary source of income is from the three Fs: farming, forestry and fishing. The order of importance of the Fs depends significantly on who is talking.
Losing towns to saltwater intrusion is nothing new.
Some of the earliest aerial photographs taken in the state show roads and clear evidence of villages that existed along the Pamlico Sound up to century or so ago.
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These towns are now a part of the marshland that surrounds Swan Quarter.
Most of the buildings in the small town are built to avoid being flooded, with many built on pilings to avoid the ever-encroaching saltwater.
Over the years, saltwater from storms and tidal rises has caused structural damage and has played havoc with septic tanks, the most common form of waste disposal in the area.
In a state that is grain deficient and striving to increase production to feed a huge livestock industry, Hyde County is a shining beacon of productivity.
North Carolina Crop Consultant Bill Peele says farms in the area are among the most productive in the Southeast.
“It’s not at all uncommon to see 200 bushel per acre corn and 60 bushel per acre soybeans on most of these fields. That’s about double the state average, and without irrigation,” he says.
“However, with continued and increasing sea level rise, and drainage ways that have been getting clogged by storm debris, we are seeing this land stay too wet during an average rainfall year, and the additional saltwater intrusion from wind tides and storm tides is reducing acres of productive farm land,” Peele says.”
“Working together with the agencies involved with the management of keeping effective drainage ways open is essential.
“Without adequate drainage, if the ground is wet, or the tides are high, a 1-2 inch rain can flood fields, and take out a crop, especially if it is at a young and tender stage,” he adds.
“Farmers these days are very savvy and are good risk managers, and this course we are on now really has all of us concerned.
“To know how productive the land is, but have your investment wiped out by one single soaking rain, leaves us ready to implement a different strategy,” he says.
“Managing water levels with pumping and flood gates will work in some instances, a diking system will work in others, but we all know it’s important to do what is right for both fishing and farming, to promote clean water and sustain the livelihood of the region,” Peele adds
Though the newly finished Swan Quarter Dike protects only about 7,000 acres of farmland, there is plenty more valuable farmland that is at risk from salt water intrusion.
This farmland lives and dies by a system of ditches, locally called canals, some of which go back to the early 1800s.
The newest canals that move water in and out of Hyde County farmland were built in 1950.
At one point in the 1980s Hyde County had more than 100,000 acres of farmland in production, or about double the amount there in 1950.
Last year, there was slightly more than 60,000 acres in production, much of the losses coming from saltwater intrusion and virtually all of it at risk from the same fate.