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NC Still Calculating Agricultural Toll of Drought

By Megan V. Williams

Wilmington, NC – With many crop yields coming in far below normal this year, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says it's worried more of the state's farmland could soon be sprouting houses.

The department's Brian Long says the drought could tip the scales for a lot of farmers in high-growth areas.

At some point, if the hardships continue, a farmer may look at that buy-out offer from a developer or a real estate agent and say, you know, I've got to do what I need to do.

Long describes the drought as 'equal opportunity,' but the state's farmers have had added bad luck on top of the lack of rain.

The late spring freeze knocked peach harvests down to a tenth of normal and apple production was also hit hard.

Many growers bet on corn, planting record amounts to feed the growing market for the alternative fuel ethanol. But corn is a water-intensive crop, and yields this year are far below average.

For most of the summer, it looked like the tobacco crop might be a bright spot for the state, until the August heat wave shriveled that yield, too.

Long says the true toll of the drought won't be known until this winter.

We get the full growing season behind us. We see what effect the drought has had on field crops and we also get a better feel from the impact it might be having on our livestock industry as well.

North Carolina's cattlemen are bracing for a hay shortage this winter brought on by the drought. The Cattlemen's Association estimates that a third of its members are at serious financial risk.