9OYS Special Report: How farmers in the East are handling the COVID-19 pandemic

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VANCEBORO, N.C. (WNCT) – The coronavirus has put millions of people out of work but not farmers.

However, the virus is adding more challenges to what they already face in their business and way of life.

Frankie Pursur is a 9th generation farmer in Vanceboro. 

He says, “You should run a farm, besides it being your heritage, you should run it as a business and if you’re not making money it’s a hobby so you have to make money.”

His business already faces challenges.

“The trade wars is what really had me worried, last year was the weather, so I guess it’s kind of getting to be an old thing but you never really get used to it,” Pursur explains. 

Now, add in the pandemic. 

The coronavirus is hitting commodities, the prices farmers get for their crops. 

Pursue says, “Basically the corn prices have me worried, I’m pretty sure they have anyone else who’s trying to farm worried. The commodity prices need to be picked up.”

What happens on farms affects everyone.

Rod Gurganus is the Beaufort County Extension Director.

He says, “These farmers that work on farms there’s a lot of money that flows out of these farms back into the local economy through wages that are paid, the purchase of inputs and supplies through the sale of crops that these counties in the east rely on because it’s a huge part of the local economy.”

Pursur survived trade wars and bad weather, he was optimistic about this year. 

“I was hoping in ’20 things would pick up and now this virus it’s like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel no time soon here,” he says. 

Farmers provide fresh produce and meat, but they’ve lost customers in this pandemic.

Gurganus is seeing this first hand. He says, “Where they’re having a problem is the lack of demand on the grocery store shelves, for pork, poultry, beef or however the virus is affecting consumption at the time. With restaurants and schools shutting down, for the most part, that’s backed up a lot of the supply so these prices have been impacted.” 

The outbreak is hitting during an important part of the year, planting season. 

“This is planting season for corn soybeans and cotton. So these guys are planting you know they’re going to put the seed in the ground they’re going to do their part to have a crop,” says Gurganus. 

Frankie Pursur wants state and national leaders to know what farmers are facing. 

He encourages local communities to speak up, “Start calling legislators, congressmen, and Senators and let them know about the situation because there is power in numbers and maybe that could change something,” Pursur says. 

The coronavirus is not just hurting Pursur’s business, it’s affecting his way of life. 

He states, “Farming is the cornerstone of civilization. You think it’s bad when there’s no toilet paper on the shelves, how about you go to Food Lion and there’s no food on the shelves.” 

One of the best ways to support local farms is to buy their products.

They’re also getting some help through the federal government’s CARES act, the stimulus program, including payments and loans.

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