News Roundup: April 7- 13

By on April 13, 2018

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.

  • “What satellites can’t see,”  Southeast Farm Press: For decades, government satellites have been taking detailed photographs of crops around the world that are now being tapped by traders like Cargill Inc. to gain an edge in global grain markets. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the benchmark in forecasting domestic crops — says the images by themselves still can’t be relied upon to predict annual corn, wheat or soybean harvests. Instead, the government’s main source of information remains farmer surveys and random field samples.
    “Satellites are not advanced enough to differentiate crop acres yet, so there is a loss of precision,” said Seth Meyer, the chairman of the World Outlook Board, the USDA agency responsible for world crop forecasts. “This technology is going to get better, but right now it’s just one tool in our forecasting toolbox.” Getting accurate assessments of major U.S. crops valued at more than $100 billion last year is a recurring challenge for traders, consumers and farmers. Crop conditions can change with the weather over the long growing season, so any early forecasts may be far off the mark when harvest rolls around. …
  • “Local food replaces tobacco as cash crop in western NC,” Morganton News Herald: A new millennium is bringing a new way to farm in western North Carolina. For most of the last century, farming in the area revolved around tobacco. Rows of burley tobacco were commonplace throughout the region, and for generations farmers relied on this cash crop each season. That all changed with the passage of the tobacco buyout in 2004. A new report fro m the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project found that the region has all but lost tobacco , but local food has emerged as a promising new direction for mountain farmers. As recently as 1992, more than half of the farms in the most tobacco – dependent counties of western NC reported growing tobacco. Since then nearly 4,000 farmers have had to find other crops or stop farming altogether. “Tobacco was the driving force of the culture, economy and landscape of the region for most of the last century ,” said Charlie Jackson, ASAP director and one of the authors of the new report. ” It speaks to the resilience of farmers and communities that we are seeing new opportunities emerge in local food . Local is who we are now. ”  The report, “The End of Tobacco and the Rise of Local Food in Western North Carolina,” analyzed data from the USDA’s Census of Agriculture to examine the region’s remarkable transition away from tobacco and toward food production and local sales. The findings are striking. Tobacco is no longer an important crop , and in its place , farmers are growing food for local markets. Though the region did experience a dramatic loss of farms with the end of tobacco, the census period just after the 2004 buyout shows the region’s farm loss leveled off with a rate far less than the state and US loss rates.
  • “As trade war threatens them, Johnston County farmers are sticking with Trump,” News & Observer: Susan Ford and Jeffrey Lee are farmers on the opposite ends of Johnston County. Ford and her father tend some 2,000 acres, mostly in the Bagley community near Kenly. Lee has about 1,700 acres in the Meadow community in southern Johnston. Both voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and said they would likely do so again, despite the fact that Trump’s planned tariffs on Chinese goods have prompted China to threaten tariffs on a host of U.S. farm commodities. …
  • “Strawberry picking: Crop is ready at a few farms, but most need another week or two of warm weather,” WRAL: It’s been a tough couple of months for strawberry growers as they faced erratic temperatures that shifted from the high 70s back in February, teasing out blooms weeks too early, to below freezing temperatures in March that were way too cold for the blooms to survive without help. Simeon Ogburn, owner of Ogburn Berries and Produce in Willow Springs, said Wednesday that he spent about 18 restless nights in March, protecting his two-acre crop from temperatures that dipped below 32 degrees. When it gets too cold, Ogburn turns on the overhead sprinklers, letting the water coat the plants and freeze, keeping the blooms at 32 degrees so they can stay healthy. “We frost protected a lot,” Ogburn said. “Depending on the weather, I might get up and cut the irrigation on at midnight or it might be 5 in the morning or it might be 2. It seemed like this year, it was a lot of all nighters.” …
  • “Growing ‘finicky’ strawberries is tough. Some organic farmers say they’re not worth it.” News & Observer: As conventional strawberry farmers around the Triangle worked into the early-morning hours Sunday to protect their crop from a late frost, organic farmer Fred Miller was in bed, sleeping away the cold night. In the past, a frost would have forced Miller and his teenage son to stay up late carefully tucking their plants away from the cold air under tarps at Hilltop Farms in Willow Spring. But this year, for one of the first times in decades, Miller had no berries to protect. “I’m kind of taking a break from strawberries,” he said. “I haven’t completely decided I’ll never do them again, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me.” Miller wasn’t the only farmer sleeping through the chilly weather over the weekend, when low temperatures dipped into the 30s. Conventional farmers might be growing strawberries as usual, but some local organic farmers aren’t growing them at all this year. They say years of poor harvests due to pests, disease and bad weather have made strawberries too big a risk. “It’s one of those things where I had to stop leading with my heart and I had to pay more attention to the realities,” said Russ Vollmer of Vollmer Farm in Bunn, one of the largest and longest-operating organic farms in the region. This is the first season in nearly three decades his family isn’t growing strawberries. Keeping up the practice “would have been like me taking everything else that this farm owns to Las Vegas and rolling it all on one roll,” Vollmer said. “Nobody in their right mind would do that.” All berry farmers risk losing a percentage of their crop to late frosts, hail, pests and other variables, but organic farms are particularly at risk. Unlike their conventional counterparts, organic farms face challenges that lead to extra work and narrow profit margins.
  • “Hog Waste In NC Has Been A Relatively Untapped Fuel Source. Until Now.” WUNC: North Carolina isn’t rich in coal, natural gas or oil deposits, but it has more hogs than nearly any other state. And for many years, people have been trying to figure out a way to turn hog waste into electricity. Listen Listening…4:16 James Morrison reports on efforts to turn hog waste into renewable energy in North Carolina. In late March, a project in the Eastern part of the state came online that has potential to turn every hog farm in North Carolina into a source of renewable natural gas, or what’s known as swine biogas. Biogas typically refers to methane created by the breakdown of organic matter. It can be made from food scraps, decomposing plants and animal waste. Swine biogas is methane that comes from hog waste. Most people think the purpose of biogas is to create green fuel, but that’s actually the byproduct. The main purpose of creating biogas is to destroy methane and earn valuable carbon offset credits – methane is 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. …
  • “China’s Tariffs Are Pinching Chinese Companies, Too,” Wall Street Journal: The company that makes Smithfield bacon and Nathan’s Famous NATH 0.88% hot dogs has fallen on the wrong side of China’s new tariffs—despite being Chinese-owned. China’s largest pork producer, WH Group, has had sizable operations in the U.S. since acquiring Smithfield Foods Inc. in 2013, and it exports some raw pork back to its home market for processing into packaged products. China’s tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. imports, including pork, took effect last week in retaliation for an announcement by the U.S. of penalties on Chinese steel and aluminum. Both governments have proposed more tariffs, each targeting $50 billion of the other country’s products, including on the Chinese side against U.S. soybeans and sorghum. …
  • “Braswell opens free-roam egg farm,” Rocky Mount Telegram: The second largest franchisee of Eggland’s Best in the Twin Counties has created its first pasture-raised farm.
    Braswell Family Farms in Nashville, which has supplied eggs and animal feed products since 1943, completed its first pasture-raised farm in partnership with a local producer in February, company officials said. A news release described the farm in Southern Virginia as a state-of-the-art facility with one hen house and 21 acres of organic pastureland for the hens to roam.
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