UPDATE (Sept. 20): The toll of chickens killed by Hurricane Florence is mounting.
According to North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture, at least 3.4 million poultry birds as well as thousands of pigs have been killed in the state because of the storm.
This number includes the 1.7 million deaths that poultry producer Sanderson Farms reported earlier this week. The company told HuffPost in a Wednesday email that an additional 6 million chickens stranded because of floodwaters remain unaccounted for.
Addressing concerns about the financial effect on the farmers whose chickens were killed, Mike Cockrell, Sanderson’s chief financial officer, said that the company’s policy is to “continue to pay growers just as we did before the storm, even if they are unable to grow chickens.”
“We will take average pay for growers who lost their farms and pay them as if they were growing chickens until their farm is repaired or rebuilt. Their cash flow will remain unchanged,” Cockrell said. “Those who lost chickens will be paid as if those chickens reached market weight and were delivered to the processing plant. Until they rebuild their farms, those payments will continue.”
At least one livestock company has reported massive losses in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
Sanderson Farms, one of the country’s largest poultry producers, said in a notice to investors Monday that at least 1.7 million of its chickens had perished in North Carolina after dozens of broiler houses and other facilities were flooded because of the storm.
The company added that about 30 farms in the state ― housing more than 6 million chickens ― remained unreachable because of flood waters. Unless feed trucks are able to access those farms, Sanderson warned that loss of life could quickly “escalate.”
Oh, this is bad. Poultry company Sanderson Farms says 1.7 million chickens have drowned on its contracted farms in NC and more than 6 million more can't be accounted for because farms are cut off by water; unclear if the birds have drowned, or are alive but feed can't reach them. pic.twitter.com/RWeTQfS2Wm— Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) September 18, 2018
In a statement, Joe Sanderson Jr., the company’s chairman, said no employees or contractors of Sanderson Farms had been seriously injured or killed in the storm.
“The magnitude of this storm and the damage it has caused continue to be widespread, and I am pleased that our people remain safe,” he said.
“I am also pleased that our assets were not significantly damaged by the hurricane,” Sanderson added. “While the storm’s impact on our live inventories and live production process will have an impact on the company’s capacity and volume over the next two months, none of the losses sustained will be long term.”
As journalist Maryn McKenna noted, however, the farmers whose chickens were killed in the storm will likely struggle in Florence’s aftermath. The farms impacted were all independent businesses contracted to Sanderson Farms and it’s unclear what sort of losses they will sustain as a result of the mass chicken deaths. Sanderson Farms has not responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
“Different companies have different compensation schemes, but a farmer who loses a cycle (a one-time crop of birds) might get compensated by how many birds died — but not for the expended labor of raising them. That price would be less than the price s/he expected at cycle end,” McKenna, who has written extensively about the poultry industry, explained in a series of tweets Monday.
This is a system that disadvantages more farmers than it enriches. (For lots of detail, see @CLeonardNews' excellent book The Meat Racket.) Farmers have told me that one place the system really falls down is compensation for disasters/weather events.— Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) September 18, 2018
And farmers are telling me that, no matter the level of compensation for birds lost to the storm, the cleanup and carcass disposal may well be on them. That's a further financial loss, when they are often on an economic knife-edge.— Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) September 18, 2018
So, tl;dr, while we're rightly horrified at the loss of animals that couldn't be moved in time, spare a thought as well for the growers of those animals, whose finances could be destroyed beyond recovery by this storm.— Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) September 18, 2018
North Carolina has been the state hardest hit by Florence, which has continued to cause devastating flooding days after making landfall. The storm has killed more than 30 people, most of them in North Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of homes remained without power on Monday night.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.