News Roundup: March 25-31

By on March 31, 2017

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.

  • “Pruitt’s EPA denies petition to ban chlorpyrifos,” Southeast Farm Press: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed March 29 an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide crucial to U.S. agriculture. “We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said Pruitt in a written statement. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making rather than predetermined results.” “We are pleased with the EPA’s decision today to deny a petition against chlorpyrifos and return to the standard pesticides review process as called for under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act,” said National Corn Growers Association President Wesley Spurlock in a written statement March 29. “The overwhelming scientific consensus is that chlorpyrifos is safe for use by farmers, and we are confident that the pesticide review process will reaffirm this.” …
  • “Breeding a Better Stevia Plant for the Southeast,” CALS News Center: At NC State University, scientists are working on something sweet, experimenting with ways to improve a plant that yields a sweetener known as stevia. As interest in sugar alternatives has risen, so has farmers’ curiosity about a gangly shrub whose leaves are dried and crushed to extract no-calorie compounds used to make the sweetener. Dr. Todd Wehner, from NC State’s Department of Horticultural Science, has been working with graduate student Brandon Huber to create breeding lines of the stevia plant that not only taste better but also are better-suited to production in the southeastern United States. Stevia leaves have been used to sweeten teas and medicines in South America for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Japan produced the first commercial stevia sweetener. Stevia has shown promise in the marketplace, and it’s now grown in several countries, including China, and used to sweeten soft drinks. Still, plenty of people who try it don’t like it as much as sugar, Wehner said. That’s why part of the NC State breeding research, funded independently by PepsiCo and the N.C. Agricultural Research Service, involves coming up with stevia plants whose leaves contain more of the sweetening compounds that people like and less of the ones they don’t. In addition to finding ways to improve the crop’s yield and taste, the researchers must consider the most efficient ways to plant, tend and harvest the crop. …
  • “Aspiring Food Entrepreneurs Launch Products at Flavors of Carolina,” Southern Farm Network: (Audio) North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Division hosts two food shows every spring, designed to bring in ‘the trade’ to see what’s new in food production in the Tar Heel State. Many aspiring food entrepreneurs use the Flavors of Carolina show to promote their new products and Willy Yontz of Zebulon explains how he came to make his Sweet Willie Lip Smack’n Bar-b-cue sauce: “I just got bottled in July of ’16, and I’m just trying to get a break. I’m trying to focus on local grocery stores and country stores. The Got to be NC festival and organization is a great stepping stone for somebody starting off.” Now, let’s talk about your product. You can’t throw a dart without hitting a bar-b-cue sauce, but yours is really, really unique. “Thank you so much. It is in that I don’t use preservatives, it’s all natural. It has a perfect mix between tangy and sweet, with just a little bit of heat. So, overall it’s a good mix between eastern and western North Carolina bar-b-cue sauce. It is vinegar based, but it has enough ketchup to where you could baste with it, but you get the strong profile of vinegar.” …
  • “Field day: After a winter that was like spring, local crops ripen early,” Greensboro News & Record: (Video) Phil Queen grasped the handles of the last two pails of strawberries for sale at Rudd Farm’s produce stand, which opened for a few hours Wednesday because of an early crop nudged on by the warmer-than-usual winter. Other shoppers swarmed around him, hoping to take home some of the limited offering. “My dear neighbor is well up in her 80s,” Queen said. “I’m going to stagger in there and give her one of these and get a pound cake out of it.” Just a few weeks ago, the Rudds and other local farmers wondered just what would survive in their fields after a winter that felt like a long spring, which pushed crops to ripen early. While farmers expect and try planning around temperature swings in the state’s often unpredictable weather, the back and forth has been longer this year. …
  • “NC Fruit Growers Take Stock Of Losses From Recent Cold Snap,” WFDD: Agriculture officials are calling the cold snap earlier this month the most damaging that fruit farmers in the Southeast have experienced since the 2007 Easter freeze that led to a $1-billion crop loss. Since then, scientists have been working with farmers to develop better methods to protect their crops against the cold. This year, that challenge was made more difficult by an unseasonably warm February which led to early flowering of fruit crops like strawberries and blueberries. North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Brian Long says the warm weather left young plants more vulnerable to the bitter cold and put their new protection methods to the test. “It’s not great news,” says Long. “One thing we do know is that the peach crop in the state really got hammered by this freezing weather. And strawberries that were protected using water to create that protective coating seemed to be faring okay.” Long says another measure — covering strawberries with plastic and protective fabric — fared worse.  …
  • “Johnston County farmers win grants,” The News & Observer/Smithfield Herald: Twenty-one farmers, including five in Johnston County, are winners in a grant program aimed at supporting family farms. The N.C. AgVentures grants, ranging from $4,800 to $10,000, are for innovative projects aimed at diversifying, expanding or implementing new entrepreneurial plans for farm operations. … The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service administers the grant program with money from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. …
  • “Column: If NC wants to feed itself – and the world – it needs to save its farms,” The News & Observer: North Carolina appears to be at a literal crossroads regarding its agricultural future. By every measure, North Carolina is a national agricultural leader, and the state is highly dependent on agricultural output for jobs and revenue. According to a study by N.C. State University, agriculture and agribusiness provides 663,000 jobs – 17 percent of all jobs in the state. This is topped only by education and healthcare with 765,000 jobs (though North Carolina is also a top agricultural educator, which contributes to the growth of this industry). North Carolina’s agricultural industry, including food, fiber, and forestry, contributes $84 billion to the state’s economy, making North Carolina one of the top farming producers in the Southeast. We also have one of the most diversified farming states in the U.S. From the state’s 52,000 farms, over 80 different commodities are produced. We are a top 10 producer in 19 commodities and are number one nationally in sweet potatoes and tobacco. Other top commodities include turkeys, hogs, strawberries, cotton, chickens, tomatoes and blueberries. Additionally, we’re the 11th largest overall U.S. agricultural exporter and top the ranks in tobacco with $562 million in exports and are second in pork ($739 million) and poultry ($669 million). IN 2012, NC HAD 52,000 FARMS – 2,700 FEWER FARMS THAN IN 2007 AND 100,000 FEWER THAN THE EARLY 1960S. The 2013 Census of Aquaculture puts North Carolina in the top 15 nationally in the fishing industry, including being third in the country for trout and fifth for catfish. We also have almost 19 million acres of forest land (60 percent of our state’s total land base) – helping the state rank second in the South for sawn-log production and providing 5,000 jobs. While this all adds up to a dynamic economic picture, there are troubling signs on the horizon. …
  • “Asheville tailgate market opening day is finally here!” Asheville Citizen-Times: After three months of having been cooped up inside at different locations, April 1 is opening day for many Asheville area outdoor tailgate markets. What can you expect from these first markets? An opportunity to catch up with farmers you haven’t seen since November. But not all of them — some vendors choose to start attending markets in May, or even June, when they’ll have a larger selection of goods to offer. …
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