First-generation farmer Jason Rhodes is not afraid to try something new.
Over the past 15 years, he has grown more than 12 crops under five different production systems at his Rhodesdale Farm in Grover. He currently produces about 650 acres of mixed seasonal produce and row crops.
Rhodes began farming part time in 1999 with an ornamental plant nursery. He went full time in 2002, adding cattle and soybeans to his operation. That same year, he planned ahead and planted five acres of blueberries and an acre of asparagus, crops that take several years before they start producing.
When the economic downturn in 2009 caused him to close the nursery, Rhodes shifted his focus to growing produce for local market. By 2012, he was selling an assortment of tomatoes, peppers (cayenne, jalapeño, habañero), squash, crowder peas, cucumbers, asparagus, garlic, cantaloupes, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and muscadine grapes.
Rhodes says crop diversity is important from a business perspective, even if that philosophy doesn’t always translate into dollars.
“I’ve found that cucumbers are not an economical crop,” he said, “but we grow them to meet the customer demand at our roadside stand.”
Last year, Rhodes converted several greenhouses from his nursery so he and his wife, Shelley, could produce tomatoes year round. This was also his first year growing garlic. In the past two years, Rhodes has added milo and canola to his field crop rotation. He is already talking about wanting to try his hand at popcorn and cotton and maybe even aquaculture trout production.
“When I wake up, farming is what I think about, and when I go to sleep, farming is what I think about,” Rhodes said. “I like what I do and that is priceless.”
Rhodes will tell you frankly that one of the reasons he likes farming is because he does not like to be told what to do. Even so, when it comes to making sure that his lime and fertilizer applications are correct, he listens attentively to Steve Dillon, regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It is not unusual for Rhodes to call Dillon three times a week.
“Steve does the math for me to make sure I’m thinking right (with respect to fertilizer application rates),” Rhodes said.
Dillon said he is happy to double-check Rhodes’ fertilizer calculations. “A small error can mean too much fertilizer and wasted money, or too little fertilizer and reduced crop yield,” Dillon said. “No matter what crop you grow, it is imperative to get soil pH and nutrient levels correct to prevent potential problems. High-value crops like fruits and vegetables require intensive nutrient management. Since fertilizer is applied daily or weekly, is it important to sample the plant tissue to ensure that nutrient applications are on target.
“I have been working with Jason for 12 to 14 years, and he is always coming up with new ideas, which is a great challenge for me,” Dillon said. “It’s exciting to hear his latest plan and then help him carry it out.”
The Field Services Section of the Agronomic Services Division has 13 regional agronomists throughout the state. They are available to visit or consult with growers who need help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. For more information or for the name of the regional agronomist in your area, call Michelle McGinnis at 919-733-2655 or click here.