News Roundup: May 27-June 2

By on June 2, 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.

  • “State of the State: Commissioner Steve Troxler talks NC ag past, present and future,” Southeast Produce Weekly: SPW spent last weekend at the ‘Got to Be NC’ Festival here, an annual celebration of North Carolina’s rich agricultural history. While there, we caught up with NC Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Steve Troxler, in his fourth term and himself a farmer, for a conversation about labor, the new administration and agriculture, the future of NC ag, and how the state overcame the loss of tobacco as a dominant crop and introduced new crops that have thrived mightily, like sweet potatoes. SOUTHEAST PRODUCE WEEKLY – When tobacco began to decline as a cash generator for North Carolina farmers, there was a lot of wringing of hands and worry about what would happen to NC agriculture. Those farmers found plenty of other things to grow. TROXLER – I’m one of those tobacco farmers that came through the hard times of especially the ‘80s and ‘90s and if you’re bound and determined that you’re going to stay on the farm and you’re going to make a living you find a way to do it. We found out that sweet potatoes like to grow in the same dirt that tobacco did so we’re number 1 in the nation in production of sweet potatoes. When burley tobacco declined in the mountains we discovered it was an excellent place to grow Fraser fir Christmas trees so now we’re number 2 in the nation in Christmas trees. We’re now ranked number two in hogs and poultry and turkeys. So we took advantage of what was a disadvantage and we moved forward and we’re much stronger for that diversification. And believe it or not, tobacco is still the leading cash crop that we have in North Carolina. It’s quiet, it’s not like it used to be but tobacco is still very important and generates about $700 million a year. I think the next big thing for us is going to be growing more specialty crops here in North Carolina. We already grow a lot of blueberries, a lot of strawberries and we ranked in the top 5 in both of those in the country. But there’s demand for so many other specialty crops. If you’ve ever been in the tobacco business with the intense management that it takes, then it’s a good transition to go from there to specialty crop. You have water, drip-irrigation and a lot of labor involved. We’re perfectly capable of doing that and I see us moving into growing more specialty crops. …
  • “Pick up a pint of blueberries early this year,” Jacksonville Daily News: Some shoppers were surprised to see pints of blueberries for sale at the Farmer’s Market already. It was a happy surprise for Mandy Woodin, who was shopping with Jessica Burnetsky at the Farmer’s Market Thursday. The two left with a pint and while Woodin said she’s a simple wash-em and eat-em girl with the occasional blueberry smoothie choice popping in, Burnetsky said she’s hoping to convince Woodin to make blueberry pancakes. The blueberries are a couple of weeks early this year, said Willie Justice with Justice Farms. …
  • “Miss Jenny’s Pickles founder: Why we’re closing our business” Triad Business Journal: Miss Jenny’s Pickles, a Kernersville-based pickle business started by Jenny Fulton in 2009 and whose product could be found in 1,200 store worldwide, announced Tuesday that it would be closing Wednesday after eight years of business. Fulton, who ran the company under the name Old Orchard Foods LLC, told TBJ that the company faced challenges within the pickle category from companies like Heinz and Vlasic and that her business partner, Ashlee Furr, had left the company. She also said that her financial partners from the West Texas Investors Club reality show “backed out” of a deal to invest $200,000 in the company in return for a 35 percent equity stake. “It is with mixed emotions to announce the closing of a company that has been my passion for the past eight years,” said Fulton, who was known as the company’s chief pickle officer. “I have such gratitude for everyone that has supported me during this amazing journey.” Fulton said she is closing the company’s 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Kernersville and that the five employees who worked for the firm will no longer have jobs there. …
  • “Hemp research gets underway,” Morning Ag Clips: When it comes to growing hemp in North Carolina, prospective growers have lots of questions. And now that NC State University scientists and extension specialists have secured seeds, they’ll soon begin experiments designed to yield answers. NC State will begin planting the crop this week at several research stations across the state. The goal, said crop scientist Keith Edmisten, will be to answer a wide range of basic questions – from when to plant, how to plant, which varieties do best, which pests affect the crop here, how much fertilizer to use and how to harvest and dry it. The researchers will be comparing their results to those obtained by researchers at N.C. A&T State University and by farmers throughout the state. To grow hemp legally, farmers have to conduct research in one of 11 areas spelled out by the state’s Industrial Hemp Commission and then report their results to the universities. The research is important, Edmisten said. North Carolina was once a leading hemp-producing state. But the crop hasn’t been grown here for decades, because it was outlawed. (Hemp comes from the same plant species as marijuana, but what makes hemp different is its low levels of tetrahydrocannabinoids, the primary psychoactive constituents of marijuana. By law, hemp must have a THC level of 0.3 percent or less.) “There’s very little we actually know about growing hemp in North Carolina,” Edmisten said. “So we have lots of questions to answer. Some of the research goals are agronomic, and some of them are economic, in terms of production costs versus what they are able to sell it for.” …
  • “Law And Order: Ag Unit,” N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News: When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in nearly a century, North Carolina fruit and vegetable growers needed a hand adapting their operations. CALS faculty have been working with partners statewide to meet those needs. How, exactly? Through leadership of the Fresh Produce Safety Task Force, created by CALS faculty nearly a decade ago. Task force members reviewed the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and assessed its impact. They hosted FDA farm visits, educated growers and associations, and actively collected and delivered their comments straight to lawmakers – giving farmers a science-based voice at the table. The task force is a partnership of NC State and NC A&T State universities, the N. C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the North Carolina Farm Bureau, farmers, commodity groups and industry associations statewide. …
  • “How to help NC city kids get a taste of farm life,” The Charlotte Observer: Parents who struggle to coax kids to do chores may be intrigued by Camp Celo in Burnsville, N.C. At this overnight camp, which is part of a working family farm, campers choose a chore shortly after they arrive. And these chores aren’t exactly light work. Someone has to milk the goats and cows, check the oil in the camp vans, and harvest vegetables. Counselors make a big fuss over latrine duty, said camp director Drew Perrin. They make toilet cleaning so fun that most kids want bathroom duty again. Plus, any camper who does it for a few days is guaranteed his first-choice chore when they rotate. Wait a sec. Kids want to clean toilets? Is Camp Celo in “The Twilight Zone”? It could be: It’s not unusual for Celo campers to discover a love for beets. Food tastes better when you’ve harvested it yourself. Counselors make that fun, too. Jada Boyd, now 13, thought she hated beets until she pulled them out of the ground herself. “She loved harvesting her own food,” said her mom, Nicole Hall of Charlotte. …
  • “Her job is helping small farmers. Her passion? Saving the bees,” The News & Observer: On a recent weekday morning, under a gray sky thick with storm clouds, about 20 people braved the elements to learn about the kinds of plants that attract bees. They wiped the drizzle off their phones to snap pictures of licorice hyssop and spotted bee balm, scribbling notes on a printed list of 200 plants, 85 percent of them native to North Carolina. Some had driven more than an hour to see the Pollinator Paradise Demonstration Garden, and to learn from its creator. Since Debbie Roos started it in 2008, the garden has doubled in size, with large beds surrounding the converted mill building and smaller ones wedged into every available space in the parking lot. The tours have also mushroomed in popularity as colony collapse has dramatically reduced the population of bees that pollinate crops and other plants. Earlier this month, Roos also helped organize the 10th annual Pollinator Day at the garden. “A lot of people want to help,” Roos says of the problems with bees. “Gardening is one way they can do that.” But promoting bee-friendly plants is just part of Roos’ job. As a Chatham County extension agent, she helps farmers with a variety of issues, from blight to marketing. Her particular focus is helping the small and organic farms that dot the western Triangle, many of them started by first-generation farmers. …
  • “New vodka company will be based out of Raleigh,” WRAL: Raleigh will soon be the headquarters for Social House Vodka, a new, farm-to-flask spirits brand founded by local entrepreneurs. The handcrafted, gluten-free vodka will be distilled in Kinston, North Carolina, officials announced Wednesday. The brand has been four years in the making for friends and industry leaders Cary Joshi, Mark Mullins and G Patel, who owns Eschelon Experiences, the restaurant group behind Raleigh favorites like Bare Bones, Cameron Bar & Grill and Mura at North Hills. After the trio searched for sites across South Carolina, Virginia and North Carolina to establish their distillery, Three Stacks Distilling Company, they selected a century-old, abandoned power plant in Kinston to produce their quality spirits. …
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