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Nor’easter prompts agricultural state of emergency

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(The Center Square) – Heavy rains and flooding from a Nor’easter over the weekend took a toll on eastern North Carolina agriculture, prompting Gov. Roy Cooper to issue a state of emergency.

Cooper issued an executive order recommended by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture on Tuesday that lifts restrictions on transporting essential livestock, poultry, feed and crops within, to or from an emergency area covering Duplin and Sampson counties.

“The state of emergency declaration will help farms in Duplin and Sampson counties transport livestock, crops and essential products in the wake of flooding from last weekend’s severe weather,” Cooper said in a statement. “North Carolina farms play a vital role in feeding the world and we want to give them the support they need to mitigate the impacts of heavy rain and flooding heading into the holidays.”

Roughly half of Sampson County is farmed and 93% of the 960 operations in the county are family farms. North Carolina’s most diverse agricultural county ranks second in the state and 20th in the country for agriculture, with a market value of $1.25 billion of products sold, according to the county website.

The county is number one in North Carolina for vegetables and turkey production, number two in pork, and number four in tobacco, wheat and soybeans. Cattle, cotton and broilers are also big business in Sampson County, where the largest employer in 2022 was Smithfield Foods.

Agriculture is vital in neighboring Dublin County, as well. The county topped farm cash receipts in North Carolina at $1.3 billion in 2022, driven in large part by its top ranking among the state’s counties for broilers and hogs. Duplin ranks second for corn, and third for vegetables, fruits and nuts. The county is also a significant producer of cattle, turkeys and soybeans, according to 2022 USDA statistics.

Both counties played a key role in the agriculture industry’s recent milestone of more than $100 billion in economic impact.

Cooper’s Executive Order 296 waives the maximum hours of service for drivers transporting livestock, poultry and crops and suspends requirements that the North Carolina Department of Public Safety weigh vehicles used for the same purpose.

“This suspension does not permit the gross weight of any vehicle or combination to exceed the safe load carrying capacity established by the DOT on any bridge … or to permit the operation of a vehicle when a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe the vehicle is creating an imminent hazard to public safety,” the order read.

“Upon request by law enforcement officers, exempted vehicles must produce documentation sufficient to establish that their loads are only providing direct assistance by transporting livestock, poultry, or poultry feed or crops ready to be harvested within, to, or from the emergency area.”

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