News Roundup: April 8-14

By on April 14, 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.

  • “March freeze legacy: Triangle strawberry shortage,” The News & Observer: In a strawberry season unlike any other, lovers of the fruit are settling for half-filled buckets and encountering locked gates at pick-your-own farms in the Triangle. The berry deprivations are the result of last month’s deep freeze that is causing a temporary region-wide strawberry shortage. Some local pick-your-own farms opted to stay closed Sunday, having nothing left to sell after Saturday pickers stripped their rows of all ripe fruit. Growers say they don’t expect consistently abundant quantities of strawberries until late April or early May. As it happens, late April is when strawberry picking season normally gets underway here. But an unseasonably warm February fooled strawberry plants into blooming early and pushed out fruit nearly a month ahead of schedule. The berries that survived the mid-March freeze are in short supply and high demand among zealous berry seekers. “Picked us completely out yesterday,” said Darin Jones, owner of DJ’s Berry Patch in Apex. “What I saved is what I was selling off.” DJ’s started selling strawberries March 27, its earliest opening ever. Jones estimates he saved at least half of the berries growing on his 6 acres by irrigating strawberry rows when temperatures dropped below freezing last month. Irrigating the blooms and young fruit insulates the forming berries in a coating of ice and keeps the fruit secure at around 32 degrees, even when the outside temperature is 10 degrees colder. …
  • “Growing Interest In Industrial Hemp,” Greater Wilmington Business Journal: Matt Collogan spent nine years working at Airlie Gardens, teaching school children and other visitors about the myriad plant and wildlife at the New Hanover County attraction. When he left his position as environmental education director at the gardens, he planned to devote his time to a small farm project, Centripetal Farms. “It’s really hard to start a small farm,” Collogan said. “We were focusing on education as well as production, but, man, we just didn’t have the capacity to achieve all that.” He still works on a farm at his house in Wilmington. “That’s my initial dream, to get back to farming and demonstrate that you can do it in a suburban area on less than an acre, but I needed a day job to fund that hobby,” he said. Another opportunity to both make a living and share his knowledge came for Collogan in the form of an effort to bring industrial hemp farming back to North Carolina. A graduate of University of North Carolina Wilmington’s environmental studies program, Collogan is currently teaching the public and potential farmers and investors about the benefits of industrial hemp as education director and government liaison of The Hemp Farmacy, a downtown Wilmington store. The Hemp Farmacy, 117 Grace St., is the retail component of Hempleton Investment Group led by Justin Hamilton. Another effort by the investment group is the N.C. Hemp Farm on the Legacy Farms campus in Wallace, although currently, organizers are not allowed to grow hemp there. Instead, Collogan said, they grow a plant called kenaf that looks similar to hemp. Collogan describes industrial hemp as a plant of seemingly endless possibilities that could bring cash and jobs to North Carolina. …
  • “Rougemont Farm Holds Baby Goat Festival,” Spectrum News: (Video) What could be more adorable than a baby goat? A whole group of baby goats! A baby goat festival was held at Prodigal Farm in Rougemont Sunday. Attendees got a chance to see and play with the baby goats up close. The farm’s owner says this event has seen quite a bit of popularity since starting several years ago. “We were really shocked this year,” said Kathryn Spann, the owner of Prodigal Farm. “We felt like we really needed to have a maximum cap on the number of people we could handle here. So we did tickets for the first time and they sold out within a couple of days.” If you missed out on this weekend’s event, don’t worry. The farm is holding three more events this spring. The next one will be held Sunday, April 30. You can contact the farm at (919) 477-5653 or email them at info@prodigalfarm.com. The farm is located at 4720 Bahama Road in Rougemont.
  • “Poultry Farm Expansions In Western North Carolina Pit Neighbors Against Neighbors,” WFDD: (Audio) A quaint farmhouse with black shutters in Surry County now stands empty. Mary Marshall cleans off the kitchen countertops and stages the room for potential buyers. “I think that table and chairs looks good there [sic] and we probably need to leave it,” she tells her husband Terry. “They look so pretty and we don’t need it any more.” The Marshalls have lived in their home for the past 30 years. It’s full of memories. But ever since large chicken houses have encroached on their property, it’s become a nightmare. “Our kids were raised here and we fully expected our daughter to get married in the back yard,” Mary says. “Well, there’s no way we can make a plan like that because you don’t know when the odor is going to come. You can’t live like that.” The Marshalls reached deep into their retirement to buy a new house nearby. It’s a hard decision and a financial burden, but they say it will save their marriage and their health. Mary has breathing problems that she thinks are caused by the waste from these large chicken houses. “I also feel so let down by the people in the community because we have been told we’ve been dividing the community because we dare to complain about it,” she says. “And when somebody tells you, you need to back down because a man’s got to make a living, but what about my right to enjoy my property and my land?” “We don’t want to do anything to harm a neighbor, or harm ourselves or our kids, the air or water,” says Johnny Simmons, who comes from a long line of farmers, and runs a chicken operation in Surry County. “We want to preserve it for the future, so we try to do the best job we can realizing [that] to produce the amount of food needed at an affordable price for the company, we have to make sacrifices.” …
  • “Agriculture’s important role in the N.C. economy,” Carolina Journal: (Video) Even with urbanization and rapid technological change, North Carolina still depends on agriculture and agribusiness for a large chunk of the state’s economy. State House Agriculture Committee Chairman Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, highlighted agriculture’s important role during a presentation Monday to the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society.
  • “Animal farms put Neuse, Cape Fear rivers among 10 most endangered,” WRAL: Two North Carolina rivers were ranked among the top 10 most endangered rivers in the country for the second year in a row when this year’s study was released early Tuesday morning. American Rivers ranked the Neuse and Cape Fear rivers the No. 7 most endangered because of the number of hog and chicken farms located in the rivers’ flood plains. Roughly 4 million North Carolinians get their drinking water from the rivers. The potential for damage was seen during Hurricane Matthew when more than 140 swine and poultry barns and a dozen open pits holding hog waste flooded. The flooding forced millions of gallons of raw animals waste into both of the rivers. Pollution in the rivers could be seen in Smithfield and as far south as Fayetteville. A number of hog facilities were removed after the flood, but more than 100 still remain in the flood plains.
  • “Countrywide project aims to help farmers adopt new cover crops,” Southeast Farm Press: Scientists from North Carolina State University are joining with others across the country to promote soil health by developing and helping farmers adopt new cover crops. Made possible by a $2.2 million grant from Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the new $6.6 million research initiative aims to “to get new cover crop solutions into the hands of those who use them or will be using them,” according to Twain Butler, a research agronomist with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation who is leading the project. In addition to scientists with the Noble Foundation and from land-grant universities like NC State, the project will involve representatives from the seed industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service and network of producers. Researchers will use advanced breeding techniques – ones that have traditionally been limited to high-value row crops – to bring new and value-added characteristics to cover crops. For example, in North Carolina, Dr. Chris Reberg-Horton of NC State will be considering ways to breed crops for such traits as allelopathy, the process by which a plant produces biochemicals that influence the growth, survival and reproduction of other plants. The project will test three types of cover crops: small grains, such as wheat, rye, oat and triticale; annual legumes such as hairy vetch, winter peas and clovers; and brassicas, or turnips, radishes, kale and mustards. …
  • “Making an honest living,” Washington Daily News: Hog farming is a way of life for many North Carolinians. The state is ranked third in the nation in the hog industry, grossing $2.3 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Recent legislation, which would limit hog farmers’ liability for animal waste smell, passed the state House of Representatives on Monday and will make its way to the Senate. Liability would be limited to lost rental or property value in neighboring areas and couldn’t exceed the property’s market value. Supporters of the amended legislation maintain that odors come with the territory of hog farming, and farmers shouldn’t be penalized for making a living on their property. Opponents of limited liability argue that the strong smells and subsequent flies are a detriment to neighboring areas and significantly lower the area’s property value. …
  • “Bringing Food to the Deserts,” North Carolina Health News: North Carolina lawmakers hope to introduce fresh food options to large stretches of land all over the state that are considered food deserts. These are areas where the scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables leaves many residents to rely on local dollar stores and similar retailers for packaged and canned goods. House Bill 387 is an effort to bolster the “corner store initiative,” passed in 2016, which would put refrigeration units in small retail stores throughout rural North Carolina so they can carry fresh produce. Sen. Don Davis (D-Greenville) filed similar legislation with the “Healthy Food Small Retailer Act” in the Senate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines an urban area food desert as an area where there is no access to healthy food for more than a mile. For rural areas, that distance stretches out to 10 miles. Primary bill sponsor Rep. Yvonne Holley (D- Raleigh) told the House Agricultural Committee on Tuesday that food deserts in North Carolina have “gotten considerably worse.” “This is one little piece of the puzzle to help try to fix the problem,” she said. “We are working in a lot of different areas.” A pilot program is just getting up and running. There are nine stores working through the contract phase with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but no refrigeration units in place yet, according to Ron Fish, assistant director of the NCDACS marketing division. Holley argued more funds are needed to truly make a dent in this problem statewide. Legislation passed in 2016 came with a one-time funding of $250,000. …
  • “NC House passes bill capping damages in suits against farms,” North State Journal: In perhaps the most hotly debated piece of legislation this week, the N.C. House of Representatives passed a bill that caps compensatory damages from nuisance claims at an amount equal to the fair market value of the affected property. “In the past, we have seen farmers sued into bankruptcy without proof of damages,” said Commissioner or Agriculture Steve Troxler (R) in a statement to North State Journal. “I’m glad the legislature is taking a look at these lawsuits that are putting farmers at risk, and I certainly hope this legislation will offer farmers a measure of protection.” House Bill 467 was filed in late March as federal courts in the State consider 26 lawsuits representing 541 plaintiffs seeking damages to compensate for the diminution of property values as a result of adjacent hog farming operations. The plaintiffs contend that the livestock operations, and spraying of effluent on crops near the properties, represent a nuisance that has reduced their property values. “North Carolina law is not clear on the availability of annoyance and discomfort damages in temporary nuisance actions.” Judge W. Earl Britt, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of N.C. Sponsors of the legislation pointed out that the presiding judge in the case cited the absence of clarity in state law for damages associated with such temporary nuisance cases, potentially opening the door for outsized damages awards that would be detrimental to the farms’ viability. “This legislation deals with nuisance lawsuits, only,” said primary sponsor Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), adding that the bill does not limit damages for a bevy of other categories such as environmental, liability, or punitive damages. Critics of the measure worried that such caps on nuisance damages unfairly restricted the property rights of potential plaintiffs and were especially concerned that the legislature was crossing a separation of powers line by getting involved in pending litigation in such a way as to benefit the defending hog farming entities. …
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