The tornadoes that ripped a 150 mile long path of destruction through North Carolina on April 16, left many wheat farmers wondering whether they will be able to harvest this years crop.

After a couple of weather-related disasters with winter wheat, North Carolina growers were looking for a good year, with a big crop that looked right on target only a few days before disaster struck.

What a difference a few days makes! The wheat crop still looks good, but getting it out of the field is going to be a monumental challenge in counties hardest hit by the storm system.

Damage to wheat from the big storm system that killed 21 people across North Carolina appears to be minor. Some fields in the direct path of tornadoes or hail that accompanied the storm were damaged or destroyed, but overall there was not widespread damage to the crop, which was a month or so from harvest ready when the tornadoes struck.

Though Raleigh and other North Carolina cities and towns were severely damaged by the storm system, the deadliest and most severe storms passed across rural areas. Damage in these areas from high straight-line winds, in addition to tornadic winds that topped 100 miles per hour, was widespread across a 12-14 county area that is the heart of North Carolina row crop production.

Indirect damage a real problem

The indirect damage from the storm is what could significantly hamper wheat production this year. The storm produced over 60 tornadoes and virtually no major wheat producing counties were spared some sort of damage. The amount of debris swept up in the multiple storms and dispersed across thousands of acres of prime North Carolina farmland is enormous.  

One grower reported losing 100 of 120 tobacco barns. One large turf producer lost 22 greenhouses — just gone, he says, debris likely miles away. Farm equipment barns, chicken houses, tin-roofed farm structures of many kinds and grain storage silos were particularly vulnerable to the storms.

Much of this debris, sheets of tin, large pieces of wood, and thousands of other pieces of what was parts of homes and farms found its way into farm fields all along the 150-plus mile path the storms took from southwest to northeast across the state.

More than a quarter-million people lost power during the storm, but by late Monday that had dropped to a few thousand. The storm not only brought down power lines, but crews responding to outages found the storm had been so strong that some wires had simply vanished.

Emergency workers took damage estimates to see if uninsurable losses reach $10.3 million, the minimum amount needed for North Carolina to qualify for federal disaster assistance. Residents without insurance were advised to take photos of the damage before they clean up.

As of Tuesday afternoon, plans were still incomplete on farm assistance from North Carolina prison system inmates. Legal and liability issues bogged down the process, but North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue is expected to sign legislation to allow use of prisoners to do debris removal on farmland. (For earlier coverage of the tornado damage visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/management/deadly-tornadoes-rip-through-north-carolina-farm-country.

rroberson@farmpress.com