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Carolina meat plants crawl back to life as Florence subsides

Major poultry and meat companies are starting to resume operations in the Carolinas as the torrential rains and flooding unleashed by Hurricane Florence start to subside.

[CHICAGO] Major poultry and meat companies are starting to resume operations in the Carolinas as the torrential rains and flooding unleashed by Hurricane Florence start to subside.

Perdue Farms Inc. resumed operations at its Lewiston, North Carolina chicken-processing plant on Saturday and plans to reopen its facilities in Dillon, South Carolina and Rockingham, North Carolina on Monday, according to an email from spokesman Joe Forsthoffer. Sanderson Farms Inc. said initial surveys show no significant damage at its North Carolina facilities and power has been restored at its Kinston plant.

Hog futures climbed for three straight days through Friday, when the storm made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane. North Carolina is among the nation's top producers of hogs, chicken and turkeys, and many livestock processors had halted operations in the state and its neighbors ahead of the deluge. Florence was downgraded to a tropical depression early Sunday as winds diminished to 35 miles per hour, but officials said the threat of heavy rainfall persisted.

"Given the amount of rain those areas continue to receive, our assessment will continue through the weekend," Sanderson Farms Chief Executive Officer Joe Sanderson Jr. said in a statement posted on the company's website Saturday. "Our live inventory and the assets of our independent poultry producers in the region comprise a significant portion of our operations. Given the logistical difficulties caused by flooding and impassable roads, assessments of damage to those facilities will also continue."

No ‘Substantial' Impact

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Hog farmers have been using using back-up power because of electrical outages and some reported minor wind damage, the North Carolina Pork Council said in a statement posted to its website Saturday. Overall, the industry has "not experienced substantial widespread impacts," the group said.

Smithfield Foods Inc. said last week it was shuttering two plants in North Carolina on Sept. 13 and 14, including its Tar Heel facility, the world's biggest hog slaughterhouse. The company's processing facilities were undamaged and it's assessing the storm's impact at farms, spokeswoman Diana Souder said by email Saturday. The company didn't say whether the plants are operating.

"Processing facilities are reported to be operational," the Raleigh-based pork council said. "Production schedules have not been announced, but it is anticipated that determinations will be based on employee safety."

Coal Ash, Sewage Spill Over as Florence Floods the Carolinas

Regional operations for turkey producer Butterball LLC are still suspended.

"In order to ensure the safety of our employees, we have suspended all North Carolina Butterball plant operations until the storm has passed," Jay Jandrain, chief operations officer, said in emailed statement Sunday. "Many of our North Carolina-based processing plants, hatcheries and feed mills have been impacted by the storm, and we continue to see flooding and power outages throughout the region."

Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat company, said last week it would temporarily close several poultry and prepared-food plants in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Tyson and chicken producer Pilgrim's Pride Inc. didn't immediately reply to emailed requests made outside of normal business hours for comment on the status of plants in the region.

More than 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste is produced annually in the state, according to a June 2016 report by the Waterkeeper Alliance, a watchdog group. Environmental organizations are preparing to inspect waterways for toxic spills from manure lagoons once the storm subsides.

"Rainfall amounts across the region have not exceeded the available capacity of farm lagoons on whole across the industry," the North Carolina Pork Council said. "Lagoon levels were low ahead of the storm" after the waste was used as crop fertilizer, the group said.


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