As NCDA&CS superintendent Kaleb Rathbone oversees winter maintenance at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, he is also brushing up on the latest issues facing today’s young farmers. Rathbone recently took first place at the N.C. Farm Bureau’s Discussion Meet, where competitors are judged on their ability to critique and develop solutions for today’s agricultural challenges. On Sunday, he will represent North Carolina at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Discussion Meet as part of the Farm Bureau’s annual conference in Atlanta.
Rathbone is part of the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Program, an initiative that provides farmers ages 18 to 35 with professional development and networking opportunities. Leadership qualities learned through the program have helped him since becoming superintendent of the Mountain Research Station last June. And, Rathbone credits being a part of NCDA&CS with helping him in the discussion meet.
“Working for the department helps you stay abreast of the issues facing agriculture, more than you might as a farmer on the farm,” he said.
One issue facing farmers across the nation that Rathbone dealt with first-hand at the Mountain Research Station is operation efficiency. It is important for farmers to be as efficient as possible, he said, especially with global competition and increased input costs. In response to the dilemma, researchers at the Mountain Research Station are using controlled experiments to develop best practices that can improve farming operations.
Researchers also are beginning the first phase of a new five-year research project to study the viability of an East Coast broccoli industry. A regional industry would provide opportunities for farmers looking to diversify their crops, and would provide area grocery stores and distributors with locally sourced products. The majority of broccoli now consumed along the East Coast is grown in California and Arizona. The Mountain Research Station will test dozens of broccoli varieties to determine which ones are best suited for growth in North Carolina’s climate. It will be one of many projects waiting for Rathbone when he returns from Atlanta next week.
To find out more about research being conducted at the 18 research stations across the state, or to participate in upcoming station events, go to http://www.ncagr.gov/Research.