News Roundup

News Roundup: Nov. 14-20

By on November 20, 2015

News Roundup - this week's top news stories about NC agriculture

Each week we round up the latest N.C. agricultural headlines from news outlets across the state and country, as well as excerpts from the stories.

“Agricultural-focused startups are blossoming in the Triangle,” News & Observer: North Carolina, and the Triangle in particular, has quietly blossomed into a hotbed of startups that are applying cutting-edge technology to agriculture. The state is home to at least 50 entrepreneurial agricultural technology companies, with 28 of those companies based in the Triangle, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Council for Entrepreneurial Development. “I think when people think about ag biotech and ag biotech startups, they think about really three geographies: here in North Carolina, St. Louis, Mo., and UC-Davis near Sacramento, Calif.,” said Scott Johnson, vice president of agricultural biotechnology at the state-funded N.C. Biotechnology Center. Comparing the size of these startup clusters, Johnson added, is problematic “because everybody talks about ag biotech with a little bit different definition.” …

“Our View: Poultry industry is making a big comeback here,” Fayetteville Observer: Just two years ago, we saw worrisome trends in the poultry industry here. The House of Raeford had shut down its turkey-slaughtering plant, ending nearly 1,000 jobs. Last year, the company closed its turkey-cooking plant in Hoke County, which employed another 400. At the same time, Sanderson Farms was getting a loud no-thanks from Cumberland County, where the company had planned a plant that would offer about 1,100 jobs – some in management, and many that would give low-skilled workers a chance at a job.
It turns out those were brief setbacks. Butterball came to Raeford and bought the turkey plant. The company invested millions and after six months is producing 27 million pounds of poultry a year. That’s only the beginning. Butterball announced last week that it’s adding 250 jobs next year, and that’s not the end of it. Company officials expect to produce 82 million pounds next year, 130 million in 2017 and top 200 million by 2018.

“Run on Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies wipes Wal-Mart out,” News & Observer: Two million pounds of sweet potatoes. That’s what it’s going to take to get Patti LaBelle’s suddenly famous sweet potato pie back onto shelves at Wal-Mart. Which means the pie that became a viral sensation during the weekend – selling roughly one every second – after a customer sang its praise in a YouTube video may not be back in time to grace your Thanksgiving table. Not that Wal-Mart isn’t trying. “There’s a lot of moving parts. The suppliers have been working all weekend,” Kerry Robinson, vice president for bakery and deli at Wal-Mart, said Monday. “We need something like 2 million pounds of sweet potatoes, and that’s not something easy to get,” she said. The sweet potato surge started Thursday, the day after James Wright posted a video of himself eating a slice of the pie, which Wal-Mart launched in September. In the video – now viewed millions of times – Wright bursts into LaBelle song and dance as he eats. Within 24 hours, social media was buzzing about Wright and the pie, and Wal-Mart stock was running low. ….

“100 years of farming heritage,” Sampson Independent: North Carolina has a rich agricultural heritage and today, our state’s agricultural industry that includes food, fiber and forestry contributes $78 billion to the state’s economy, accounts for more than 17 percent of the state’s income, and employs 16 percent of the work force. North Carolina is one of the most diversified agriculture states in the nation. The state’s 52,200 farmers grow over 80 different commodities, utilizing 8.4 million of the state’s 31 million acres to furnish consumers a dependable and affordable supply of food and fiber. The Tar Heel State produces more tobacco and sweet potatoes than any other state and ranks second in Christmas tree cash receipts and the production of hogs and turkeys. The state ranks seventh nationally in farm profits with a net farm income of over $3.3 billion. Net income per farm in the state is over $63,000. Sampson County and its neighboring counties comprise a key component of this North Carolina agricultural economic engine. …

“Redbud Farm: one of many struggling N.C. farms,” Elon Local News: Nearly every day for the past several decades, 70-year-old Redbud Farm owner Clay Smith has woken up at sunrise eager to plant, tend and market his crops. Recently, however, he is realizing he faces more struggles today than ever before. From his cancer, to inclement weather, to a low income, he is fighting to keep his certified organic farm in operation. “I’m 70, so how much longer do I have?” Smith wonders. “Hopefully I’ll have another 10 years I can do this. We’ll see but nobody could do it forever.” Smith is among a declining population of small farmers. “The average age of a farmer in North Carolina is up in the high 50s,” he said. “When you have a high average age, you’ve got to have some young people coming into it.” …

“Expect A Hard Winter for Honey Bees,” PR News Wire: There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting out in the field and investigating honey bee colonies. All right, maybe there are a few things I enjoy more, but I consider it a “win” any time I get out of the office to work with bees! During these late summer and early fall inspections, which involve evaluating up to a hundred and fifty samples taken from different hives across the country, I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting the rate of winter survival of colonies beekeepers can expect. What I’ve seen so far this year really concerns me. Since 2013, U.S. beekeepers have been doing better at reducing winter honey bee colony losses. Part of this success comes from better management of a principal cause of these losses – the Varroa mite. However, during my 2015 hive evaluations, I was disturbed to find the vast majority of hives contained mite infestations well above the threshold level of concern. In the almost 30 years since Varroa was introduced to North America, I’ve learned that a hive containing three Varroa mites per 100 bees suggest that the colony is in trouble. …

“Apple variety block moves to new location,” Hendersonville Times-News: For three decades, a lot of slightly more than 1 acre was home to a dizzying variety of fruit trees. That changed last week, when Henderson County Cooperative Extension Service staff and volunteers dug up hundreds of the trees, marking the end of an era for the experimental growing area. “It’s kind of bittersweet to see the trees removed, but one thing that I’ve learned over the years that you can count on (is) change,” said Marvin Owings, county Extension director. The Henderson County Cooperative Extension Variety Block is being moved because the Richmind Company, an apple orchard owned by Richard and Mindy Staton where the block has been located since 1985, is expanding and needs the space for a new storage area for bins and a controlled-atmosphere storage area. “We’re happy for the Statons that their business is growing such that they require more room,” Owings said. “Because that means that there’s more demand for the processed fruit, and that seems to be growing.” Owings said the variety block was one of the first requests he received when he started at the Extension Service. …

“Chestnuts: A traditional Cherokee food source puts down new roots in WNC,” Mountain Xpress: Paul Dillman of Qualla Boundary makes traditional Cherokee chestnut bread. But he says he’s never tasted an American chestnut. I met Dillman at Jay Huskey‘s Cherokee Food Booth at the annual Cherokee Indian Fair, where he was preparing Indian dinners: green beans, fried cabbage, fried potatoes, fatback and grease, fried pork chops and the customer’s choice of bean bread or chestnut bread. Dillman’s mother, Sue Owle, ran Boundary Tree restaurant in Cherokee from 1967-77, and growing up he learned Cherokee cooking from the older Indian women who worked there. Chestnut bread is a variation of bean bread, a traditional staple food among the Cherokee. It’s prepared much the same way, just substituting chestnuts for pinto beans. Dillman calls the bread a “grease delivery system.” He prefers it with butter, but “around here,” he says, “bacon grease is king.” To make the bread, Dillman boils chestnuts, which are usually stored frozen to prevent weevils, then caramelizes them and mixes them with stoneground cornmeal and a little baking soda (traditionally wood ashes) and flour to form a a paste. He wraps the paste in cornhusks and seals them, then boils them for an hour. He then unwraps the husks and cuts the bread into slices, slathering each with fatback grease and sometimes sautéing some of the grease off to give the bread a little crispiness before sending it on its way. The American chestnuts (Castanea dentata) that formerly served as the base for this dish were largely wiped out by the chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, a pathogenic fungus brought to this country by imported Asian chestnuts in the late 19th century. …

“Avian Influenza Tightening Turkey Supply,”  Southern Farm Network: (Audio) As we approach the holiday season, while not a shortage, availability of turkeys for Thanksgiving is snug due to highly pathogenic avian influenza Scott Prestage, VP of Prestage Farms Poultry Division: “Everyone knows about the impact that bird flu has had on the poultry industry, out in the Midwest, particularly the turkey industry. The last numbers I saw was something like more than 3.5% of the annual production in this country taken out of the pipeline from bird flu, that’s had a positive impact on market prices, for sure.” And Prestage says they’ve had to turn down some requests for product: “I’m aware of folks that have contacted our company looking for product. And you build relationships with customers, and in times like these its important you take care of those customers, so, unfortunately you have to say ‘no’ to folks that call looking for product.” As far as carry-over into the New Year, Prestage had this: “We will not have very much carry-over. I can tell you that product is moving out of coolers and freezers very quickly. I don’t think we’ll have very much at all, no.” …

“Couple involved in shady business of growing mushrooms with straw,” Winston-Salem Journal:  Nestled in a little cove at the base of Pilot Mountain, a couple has found a unique way to live off the land. Ernie and Cathy Wheeler of Borrowed Land Farm in Pinnacle have been farming a portion of 57 acres of their land for the last two years, raising sheep, pigs, rabbits and chickens. Their harvested meat and eggs are sold at the King Farmers Market, along with their newest offering of homegrown shiitake and oyster mushrooms. The Wheelers worked as marine biologists for years, moving all around the U.S. They moved to Pinnacle two years ago, where they joined family with whom they share similar ideals about farming and homesteading. …

“NC Farm School helps Davie couple,” Davie Enterprise Record: NC Farm School lives up to its slogan of “growing farmers from the ground up” as the school has wrapped up the last classes of 2015. Almost half of those who graduate will go on to start new or diversified ventures from the information they have learned. Farmers and future farmers attended evening classes once a month for seven months to gain knowledge from experienced farmers, local agents and university specialists. Among the graduates are Holly and Justin Miller from Davie County. “We started farming about three years ago and we were looking for a crop that took less acreage and made more money,” says Justin. Given the suggestion to attend from local Extension agent Pam Jones of Davie County Extension, Justin gained what he needed to take the next step. “The budgets and the business side is something I would have never been able to gain on my own without [NC Farm] School.” Holly said: “I feel like we have gained a community, people that you can kind of lean on to find answers you need.” …

Print Friendly, PDF & Email