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.
- “We waste a lot of food. These people are doing something about it.” News & Observer: Oddly shaped produce can make for a fun conversation. But most produce that doesn’t fit the public’s idea of normal ends up in a landfill. Some is never harvested at all. Now some Triangle companies are trying to solve several issues with one delivery box. Up to half of the fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S aren’t eaten, due to both appearance and demand. Growing, harvesting, shipping and selling food that will not be eaten costs us economic and environmental resources. Food in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. And 14.4 percent of North Carolinians are food insecure, meaning they aren’t always sure where their next meal is coming from. It’s hard to blame any one party. Growers harvest food they can sell. Supermarkets stock food consumers will buy. Consumers buy what they know, and we expect perfectly round onions and proportional broccoli exactly when we want it. “Picking something and not having a place to sell it is a great way to lose a lot of money,” said Jeff Bender of Bender Farms, a family operation of about 500 acres near the Virginia border. On smaller farms like Bender’s, unsold produce can be re-purposed as feed for animals or used to put nutrients back into the soil. On larger operations, that unsold produce is often little more than waste. Lisa Johnson, a senior research scholar at N.C. State University, estimates that 42 percent of vegetables grown in North Carolina are left unharvested, as a result of constraints outside the control of growers. Farmers juggle customers and crops, grocery stores and distributors juggle customer demand and available supply, and none of it can be determined more than a few weeks in advance. All of these potential transactions can be thrown off by one season of especially hot or wet weather. “In the end, mother nature rules,” Bender said.
Courtney Bell became concerned about food waste in the Triangle as a student at Duke, where she learned about the different ways wasted produce is a drain on our environment and economy.
Bell spent the second half of her college career building Ungraded Produce, a company that buys unsold produce from farmers and distributors and sells it directly to consumers for a discount. Bell began in 2016, buying unsold produce from two farms and selling it directly to 15 customers, mostly fellow Duke students. Ungraded Produce, which Bell now runs full time with the help of an operations manager, acquires ugly and excess produce from farms and distributors around the state. This gives farmers a reason to harvest unattractive or extra produce and rescues food that distributors or supermarkets would have thrown away. …
- “Franny’s Farmacy: CBD dispensary opens in Hendersonville,” Hendersonville Times-News: A CBD dispensary is now offering its products in Hendersonville, as Franny’s Farmacy has opened its second location in the area. The store, located at 128 Henderson Crossing Plaza, opened its doors Nov. 30 and is hosting a grand opening celebration on Thursday. The dispensary offers CBD hemp flower, pre-rolled CBD smokeables, oils, topicals (lotions, salves), edibles and products for pets. CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 chemicals in cannabis. It does not have a psychoactive effect like marijuana, and therefore does not get the user high. CBD products are typically derived from hemp. CBD has become increasingly popular in the wellness world, and owner Frances “Franny” Tacy says she has seen those health benefits firsthand.
Users often cite health benefits in dealing with anxiety, depression, inflammation and pain, according to Tacy. She said she regularly hears different medical uses and benefits of CBD. She farms the crop and also spends her time educating groups and individuals about hemp and CBD. The Asheville location, at 211 Merrimon Ave., opened in mid-September. Customers have been coming from Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina and other southern cities to shop the CBD products at the store. Tacy wanted to bring the products closer to that customer base, and decided Hendersonville was an ideal spot to expand, as it is still in close proximity to the other store, distribution center and farm. Tacy runs the business with her husband, Jeff. She is the first woman in North Carolina to farm hemp under the state’s pilot program. In her business, Tacy is working to rid popular misconceptions about hemp and CBD, she said. …
- “Sea of Color: King nursery grows 88 varieties of poinsettias this season,” Winston-Salem Journal: My holiday joy officially arrived last week when I was introduced to the newest poinsettias on the market. My head is now swimming with their clever names, which so aptly describe their individual personalities. Although not a tangible, wrapped gift, learning new plant names is every bit as good, filling my plant-nerd heart with warmth and cheer. As any plant person will tell you, there’s something about hearing new cultivar names that incites glee. So when I strolled the greenhouse at Mitchell’s Nursery and Greenhouse in King last week, I was not surprised to find dozens of freshly named poinsettias, all making me grin from ear to ear. Mitchell’s Nursery doesn’t mess around with its poinsettia production. Growing this Christmas staple since 1996, Mitchell’s has grown 9,600 poinsettias this year in 88 different varieties. Its poinsettia greenhouse spans half an acre and is a sea of color amidst the bleak December landscape. …
- “N.C. Food Innovation Lab expected to open in July 2019,” Independent Tribune: Officials break “concrete” in celebration of the start of construction for the N.C. Food Innovation Lab. Pictured are: Bill Aimutis, PhD, Director, NC Food Innovation Lab; Richard Linton, PhD, Dean of NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Agriculture, NCDA&CS; Mark Spitzer, Vice President of N.C. Operations, Castle & Cooke, N.C. Research Campus and Dan Gerlach, President, Golden LEAF Foundation. Officials from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Research Campus, the Golden Leaf Foundation and the City of Kannapolis celebrated the start of construction for the N.C. Food Innovation Lab on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The facility will be housed on the first floor of the Core Lab Building on the North Carolina Research Campus. The North Carolina Food Innovation Lab will focus on helping entrepreneurs, farmers, and established manufacturers with the processing and manufacturing of new food products. “This facility has been a long time coming,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “This lab will be very important for agriculture in N.C. We need to be able to bring crops from the fields, to the market as improved and new food products and ingredients that people can buy.”
- “School helped plan man’s return to farm,” Wilson Times: When Ben Sharpe got it in his head that he wanted to return to the family farm and establish a viable agricultural business, he looked to the N.C. Farm School to guide him. Sharpe, 37, had been away from the Elm City-area farm where he grew up for a decade. He had apprenticed with Cummins Atlantic in high school and that turned into a good-paying job he wanted to keep.
“My job had me traveling a lot,” Sharpe said. “It seemed like everybody was growing up and I was missing all of it.” Sharp wanted to be home and really missed the farm life. So he quit the job and started his own company, Sharpe Ag Solutions. “I work on diesel engines, whether it be on farm equipment, construction equipment or even highway trucks and generators,” Sharpe said. “I have actually started by putting in generators at some people’s houses. It is the one thing I knew I could keep doing to keep some money coming in.” Sharpe knew that being a mechanic was a good thing to have on the farm to support his other venture, Sharpe Bros. Farms, with his older brother Kevin. They are already raising cattle on the farm located off Redmon Road east of Elm City. Farming is risky business and Sharpe knew he needed help with the business end. He enrolled in the N.C. Farm School Down East, a class given in eight evening sessions every other Thursday in Pitt County. The school is put on by a community of North Carolina agricultural extension agents from all over the region. The purpose is to increase the number of successful and sustainable farms in the state.
- “North Carolina ‘limping along’ but will recover,” Southeast Farm Press: Steve Troxler, North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, didn’t mince words in detailing the destruction Hurricane Florence left in her wake as she made landfall on Wrightsville Beach Sept. 14 and refused to leave.”I’ve never seen anything like it,” Troxler said to Southern Crop Protection Association (SCPA) members at the organization’s annual meeting Nov. 12 in Asheville, N.C. “Words can’t describe the unbelievable devastation. It is a catastrophe,” he said. “Florence came ashore as a Category 1 storm, but just sat there, and sat there, and sat there.” He said he had never witnessed “a river running backwards before. The wind blew so hard it pushed water up the rivers. When the water moving up river met water moving down, flooding occurred.” He said before the storm moved out, days after landing, “8 trillion gallons of water fell out of the sky. I have trouble contemplating that, so I had folks break it down. That’s enough to provide every person in the United States with 240,000 pints of water. Troxler said flooding in places rose to 8 to 10 feet, to the top of chicken houses and barns. “The only things we could see from the air were the hog lagoons and hay barns,” he said. The lagoons, he added, held. He said crop damage, though still being assessed, is massive. “We will have very little cotton, very little soybeans. We were just starting to harvest. Peanuts are also damaged.” Troxler said the state has asked for federal disaster assistance. Requests include a multi-state appeal for accelerated Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) funds. “That program was put in place in 2016 and we are trying to expedite payments.” He said farmers need to get checks in their hands soon, so they will be able to get financing for the 2019 crop. “Our farmers are in dire need.” Loss will create an economic hardship on the state. “Agriculture is our No.1 industry,” Troxler said, “accounting for $87 billion. We are No.1 in tobacco, No.1 in all poultry receipts, No. 2 in hogs, No. 2 in Christmas trees and in the top five in strawberries, blueberries, and jalapenos.”
- “Local (Griswold worthy) places to find your Christmas tree🎄,”AVL Today: If you haven’t started decorating for the holidays already, it’s time to dig out that box of ornaments, grab last year’s wrapping paper out of storage, and start writing those Christmas cards. And, most importantly, it’s time to put up the tree. And here in Asheville, we’re lucky to be right in the middle of Christmas tree country, which stretches across Western North Carolina. Living in the mountains means there are tons of choices for real Christmas trees, most of which will be local. You can cut your own at a farm (these often offer other activities + family fun), head to a pop-up Christmas tree lot around town, or even hit a big store like Lowe’s. But whichever way you pick your perfect tree, here’s what you should know about the industry here in N.C.
🎄North Carolina is the second largest producer of Christmas trees in the U.S. (after Oregon)
🎄There are about 1,400 farmers growing trees over 40,000 acres in the state.
🎄20% of all real Christmas trees in the county come from N.C.
🎄The most common Christmas tree – and the one mostly grown in WNC (99.4%) – is the Frasier Fir.
🎄The Frasier Fir is the official state Christmas tree in N.C. It received the designation in 2005.
🎄It can take up to 15 years for a tree to grow to full size (6-7 ft), but the average time is 7 years.
Since the tree is the centerpiece of the holiday season, we asked you where you get yours on Instagram and Facebook.
Here are some of your favorite places to cut your own tree or pick one up to go. And we’ve updated this list to reflect the spots that are sold out – but be sure to call before you head to the farms. …
- “China Buys U.S. Pork Despite Tariffs,” Southern Farm Network: The African Swine Fever outbreak is forcing China to buy more U.S. pork in spite of high tariffs imposed during the trade war between the two countries. China, the world’s biggest pork producer and consumer, placed its largest order for U.S. pork since the trade war began. A Reuters article says the purchase seems to signal that China has serious concerns about supply shortages due to the disease outbreak. Brokers and traders both say that could be potentially superseding trade tensions. During the tit-for-tat trade war, China has imposed a tariff of 62 percent on imports of American pork. For the week ending November 22nd, China bought more than 3,200 tons of pork to be shipped this year. USDA data shows that’s the biggest purchase of the season since February. China also bought close to 4,000 tons of pork to be delivered in 2019. Brett Stuart, President of Global AgriTrends, says pork is abundant in China right now and prices are low. However, he adds, “That doesn’t mean there will be plenty of pork in China next year.”
- “Farm family lauded for conservation,” Shelby Star: A local farm family has received recognition for their commitment to protect and improve the environment.
Dee Mintz, his wife Diane, and son Todd, farm poultry and cattle between Polkville and Casar near the First Broad River. For their commitment to land stewardship, the Mintz family has received the 2018 Outstanding Conservation Farm Family Award from the Cleveland Soil and Water Conservation District. The award recognizes a farming operation that strives to protect and improve the natural resources on their farm for future generations. Their 140-acre farm has seen changes over the years, but the family has always had a commitment to taking care of the land, starting with Dee’s father, Fred, who bought the farm in the 1930s. Fred Mintz used mules to build terraces to prevent erosion for cotton farming, and many of those terraces still run the pastures today. When the boll weevil ruined cotton in 1949, Fred decided to switch to dairy farming and turned his cotton fields into pastures. He ran the small dairy until 1977 until finally switching over to purely beef cattle. Dee and Diane helped Fred with the beef herd for many years and then took over the farming operation in 2001 after Fred passed away. Now, their son Todd helps them with the farming operation. “Really, it’s more like I help Todd now,” said Dee. “He takes care of all the poultry houses.” …
- “Florence recovery package wins unanimous approval, heads to Cooper,” Progressive Pulse: In an often contentious first week of the N.C. General Assembly’s lame-duck session, Democrats and Republicans unanimously came together to pass a roughly $300 million bill to fund Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Senate Bill 823 passed the state House and Senate unanimously and was sent to Gov. Roy Cooper Thursday afternoon.
Last month, Cooper signed an $800 million recovery package into law and lawmakers held $400 million in reserve. This latest allocation of recovery aid would account for most of that reserve. The bulk of it—about $240 million of the $300 million in the bill—will go to the Department of Agriculture to aid farmers whose crops and businesses were devastated by the storm. State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler called agriculture “the foundation industry in many of these areas,” and told lawmakers Tuesday that the recovery bill was the most important thing in which he’s been involved since taking office in 2005. “This bill is the best thing the legislature can do right now to restart the economy in these rural areas that have been so heavily impacted,” Troxler said. “We are hopeful this will get this economic engine restarted in rural North Carolina,” he continued. The bill also contains $10 million to aid commercial fishing and shellfish farming industries through the Department of Environmental Quality. Speaking before the Senate Appropriations committee Tuesday, Jerry Schill of the North Carolina Fisheries Association said the fishing industry has been hard hit by multiple storms the last few years. The bill is a good start toward putting the shaken industry back together.
- “Hemp and CBD: Renaming Tobacco Road,” WRAL: An empty tobacco warehouse stands on the outskirts of Whiteville, North Carolina, a small southeastern town that used to be a pit stop along Tobacco Road. A few more miles outside city limits sit thousands of acres of farmland with run-down drying barns serving no use because most farmers switched to corn and soybeans years ago. But down one winding road in Columbus County, miles away from the abandoned tobacco warehouse, what’s old is new again. Four acres of a crop that used to proliferate throughout America is growing tall — hemp. Hemp is harvested for three purposes: stalk, leaves and flower. Countless uses come out of those three providers like paper, fiber, grain and oil. Unlike its cash crop predecessor, hemp isn’t addictive, and you don’t smoke it. Hemp is part of the cannabis family, which is best known for marijuana, associated with Bob Marley and rolled in joints to be smoked. The chemical in marijuana that causes these associations is THC, which causes the high.