US Cotton, Peanuts, Soybeans at Risk as Hurricane Dorian Moves North

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Hurricane Dorian has had relatively limited impact on mainland US agriculture to date. The fruit on Florida’s citrus trees and opening bolls of cotton in Georgia were spared as Dorian stayed offshore when it moved past those states.

But over the next two days, high winds and heavy rains are expected to sweep the Carolinas. On Thursday, up to 11 inches of rain are expected in coastal South Carolina, and 4-5 inches are forecast across major agricultural producing areas of North Carolina through Friday, according to the NOAA Global Forecast System  (GFS). Dorian’s slow movement has so far allowed time for residents and agricultural operators in mainland US to prepare.

Dorian’s impact on the Southeastern states will not only be an important focus for the agricultural industry in the US, but also the world. The US is the world’s No. 1 cotton exporter and one of the top three exporters of peanuts.

Weather forecast data and crop masks allow Gro users to better assess potential crop impact. The chart on the left shows the current rainfall forecast for Friday, Sept. 6, from NOAA's Global Forecast System (GFS). On the right, MapSPAM data shows historic cotton acreage across the Southeastern seaboard. 

The storm’s strength has been on the cusp of Categories 2 and 3. That’s well below its Category 5 rating when it devastated the Bahamas earlier this week. Still, Dorian is more severe than other hurricanes to hit the Southeast US in recent years.

With the arrival of Dorian, the Carolinas have now been impacted by significant hurricanes in four of the past five years. While 2015’s Hurricane Joaquin stayed well off the US coast, remnants from the storm contributed to historic flooding in both North and South Carolina. Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina as a Category 1 storm in early October 2018, and in September 2018, Hurricane Florence, also a Category 1, traversed the entire state. All three events corresponded with weak yields for the states’ important cotton, soybean, tobacco, and peanut crops.

In the past five years, the Carolinas collectively have produced up to 57% of US tobacco, 16% of US peanuts, and 9% of US cotton. And, as major livestock producers, the loss of soybean production in the states has greater impact on local basis prices than their 2% share of US production would imply.

North Carolina is the country’s second-largest producer of hogs. However, the North Carolina Pork Council doesn’t anticipate severe impact on the state’s pig operations. The council reports that operators are well prepared, and the effects from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence in previous years were limited and isolated.

North Carolina has been impacted by hurricanes in four of the past five years. Historical yield data for peanuts (in blue), tobacco (in green), and cotton (in red on the right axis) show corresponding declines in 2015, 2016, and 2018. 

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