News Roundup: Aug. 19-25

By on August 25, 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.

  • “Western North Carolina blogger tour connects farm to grocery store,” Fresh Plaza: The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services partnered with Ingles Markets to make the connection from farm to grocery store for a group of food bloggers on a tour held in July. “As food bloggers, this group has an audience who is interested in food, and that also includes how food is grown,” said Heather Barnes, a marketing specialist for the department. “Many of these writers had never been to a farm, but they have all been to a grocery store. This tour was an opportunity to connect the dots between the farm and grocery shelf.” Leah McGrath, Ingles Markets’ corporate dietician, worked with the department to coordinate the tour. “I felt it would be a unique opportunity for the bloggers to see some of the aspects of the food system they may not have seen or experienced before,” McGrath said. During the three-day tour, bloggers visited Harvest Farm in Marion. Participants harvested grape tomatoes and planted cabbage, giving bloggers a new perspective on the job of farming itself. “This is the hands-on experience I wanted to have that reiterated how hard our farmers work day in and day out to provide the food for our meals,” said one blogger in a post-tour survey. …
  • “Three largest farm groups ask governments to modernize NAFTA,” Southeast Farm Press: The Trump administration, political pundits and business groups have all been weighing in on renegotiating the 20-plus year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. But what about the farm groups who have watched NAFTA help build some of their biggest markets? The largest farm organizations in the three NAFTA partners have written their governments letters reiterating their calls that the NAFTA renegotiations should “aim to modernize the agreement rather than dismantle it.” The American Farm Bureau Federation, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Mexico’s Consejo Nacional Agropecuario, which represent hundreds of thousands of farmers in each country, all said agriculture represents one of NAFTA’s biggest success stories, a development that seems to have been lost on some members of the Trump administration. In their discussions, the presidents of the three farm group presidents agreed on the need to build on the original agreement’s success by looking for ways to increase trade volumes. “NAFTA has boosted the incomes of millions of farmers and has facilitated the development of profitable export markets,” said CFA President Ron Bonnett, whose Ottawa-based organization represents more than 200,000 farmers and farm families. …
  • “Tobacco farming: A changing, shrinking industry in Brunswick County,” Wilmington Star News: As the hot, steamy days of summer pass, hardy rows of green tobacco ripen, turning bright yellow leaf by leaf. As the leaves begin to yellow, farmers prepare to harvest their crop. In Brunswick County, an are a once rife with tobacco farms, only three farmers remain. Wayne Grissett works about 60 acres of tobacco in Ocean Isle Beach with his son, William. Jody Clemmons has a tobacco farm in the Supply area. Wayne Grissett has worked tobacco his whole life and at one time had about 120 acres of the leafy crop. Yet farming tobacco today is significantly different and presents more challenges than when he first started out, he said. The biggest change came in 2014 when the tobacco buy-out ended, said Mark Blevins, Brunswick County Cooperative Extension director. Blevins said there used to be multiple farmers with moderate amounts of acreage; now, there are only three. The tobacco buy-out provided mostly Southern farmers who held the rights to grow tobacco with annual payments amounting to $9.6 billion between 2005 and 2014 from tobacco manufacturers to help them transition to a deregulated market. Once the buy-out ended, many farmers began pulling out of tobacco farming in the area — though tobacco farming continues to be a major industry in North Carolina. …
  • “FMD Vaccine Bank Important to Country’s Livestock Industry,” Southern Farm Network: (Audio) Livestock organizations are working hard to have included in the 2018 farm bill funding for a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank. North Carolina’s State Veterinarian, Dr. Doug Meckes explains that the vaccines that would be available would be reactive, not proactive: “In the event of the identification of a foot and mouth disease outbreak, a containment area would be established around the central infected zone. The idea would be to use the vaccine inside the 7 kilometer buffer area outside the infected zone to stop the spread of the disease. But, keep in mind that if the disease is introduced into this country, it’s three to five to days before clinical signs become manifest. On any given day we have 1 million pigs on the road, we have 500,000 head of cattle on the road and we’ve got 25 million birds on the road. Birds aren’t affected, but they come from farms and they can carry the disease.” So, why would we not build this vaccine bank and use it as a preventative? “Money. It’s all about the money. And the farm bill, the Animal Health Pest and Disease Program requests a stipend of $150 million a year for five years to build this vaccine bank. That much money is going to be hard to come by given the current fiscal state of the nation. But, it’s the only solution we have to managing it. The old approach of control of foot and mouth disease is to contain and eradicate. We have nine million pigs east of I-95, and no one is suggesting that we quarantine everything east of I-95, and depopulate nine million pigs to stop the disease. There’s nowhere for them to go. So, we have to use vaccine to stop the spread of the disease.” …
  • “Smithfield Foods to invest $100M in NC pork plant,” WRAL: Smithfield Foods Inc. announced Tuesday it plans to invest $100 million to expand its Bladen County pork processing plant. The company wants to build a new distribution center and expand its cold storage capabilities at its processing facility in Tar Heel. The moves will add about 250 jobs, as well as employment opportunities with Smithfield’s logistics partner, officials said. “This expansion reflects the promising new era we’re experiencing at Smithfield,” President and Chief Executive Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement. “It supports our continued growth and helps us better serve our customers by providing additional capacity and optimizing our distribution footprint.” Smithfield will begin construction of the 500,000-square-foot distribution center this month. The cold storage expansion is already underway and will increase the facility’s capacity by 140 million pounds. Both projects will be complete by fall 2018. …
  • “Longtime N.C. sweet potato grower-shipper dies,” The Packer: Long-time North Carolina sweet potato grower Carson Barnes has died, in Rocky Mount, N.C. He was 82. Barnes started with less than a half-acre of sweet potatoes, eventually expanding with his company, Barnes Farming Corp., Spring Hope, N.C., and sister company Farm Pak Products, which handles sales. According to the company’s website, Barnes Farming and Farm Pak manages sweet potatoes grown on a total of more than 14,000 acres, according to a statement from the company. Barnes was a key player in developing the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, according to the statement. Former commission executive director Sue Langdon said he was passionate about the group’s success, and he’s been credited with promoting sweet potatoes in the U.S. and export markets. His son, Johnny Barnes, is president of Barnes Farming and said the family operation strives to do business “the right way.” “We want the memory of my dad and former president to serve as a reminder to continue to grow the best quality sweet potatoes from field to fork,” he said in the release. …
  • “E.P.A. Promised ‘a New Day’ for the Agriculture Industry, Documents Reveal,” The New York Times: In the weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency decided to reject its own scientists’ advice to ban a potentially harmful pesticide, Scott Pruitt, the agency’s head, promised farming industry executives who wanted to keep using the pesticide that it is “a new day, and a new future,” and that he was listening to their pleas. Details on this meeting and dozens of other meetings in the weeks leading up to the late March decision by Mr. Pruitt are contained in more than 700 pages of internal agency documents obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information request. Though hundreds of pages describing the deliberations were redacted from the documents, the internal memos show how the E.P.A.’s new staff, appointed by President Trump, pushed the agency’s career staff to draft a ruling that would deny the decade-old petition by environmentalists to ban the pesticide, chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos is still widely used in agriculture — on apples, oranges, strawberries, almonds and many other fruits — though it was barred from residential use in 2000. The E.P.A.’s scientists have recommended it be banned from use on farms and produce because it has been linked to lower I.Q.s and developmental delays among agricultural workers and their children. At a March 1 meeting at E.P.A. headquarters with members of the American Farm Bureau Federation from Washington State, industry representatives pressed the E.P.A. not to reduce the number of pesticides available. They said there were not enough alternative pesticides to chlorpyrifos. They also said there was a need for “a reasonable approach to regulate this pesticide,” which is widely used in Washington State, and that they wanted “the farming community to be more involved in the process.” According to the documents, Mr. Pruitt “stressed that this is a new day, a new future, for a common-sense approach to environmental protection.” He said the new administration “is looking forward to working closely with the agricultural community.” …
  • “Protecting mountain gold: Balsam uses dye to thwart ginseng poachers,” Smoky Mountain News: Brian McMahan and Johnny Nicholson can both remember boyhood days spent in the mountains, hunting the elusive ginseng plant. Coveted for its myriad medicinal uses, ginseng root harvest is an Appalachian tradition stretching back through generations. McMahan and Nicholson were both taught to dig it in such a way that its numbers would stay strong for generations more — leaving small plants to grow and planting the seed-containing berries of harvested plants in the earth around the dig. “Most of the time we would ginseng dig to get money to buy a hunting license or something like that,” Nicholson said. “But the old-timers never dug it before the berries got ripe.” These days, both men work for the Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County — McMahan as chief security officer and Nicholson as operations manager — and they’ve spent untold hours working to protect the Preserve’s wild ginseng from poachers who aren’t interested in harvesting the plant legally or responsibly. “Today, these poachers just take everything,” McMahan said. “They take the big stuff, they take the little stuff. They even take it before it has berries that are available to plant.” McMahan’s hoping that a new effort underway at the Preserve will soon keep the poachers at bay. Working with homeowners in the community and the Balsam Mountain Trust, the Preserve is attempting to apply chemical markers to as many of the ginseng plants growing on the Preserve’s 4,400 acres as possible. …
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