Driving N.C. Agriculture in the Blacklands

by | Aug 11, 2021

Tidewater Research Station

With agriculture being our state’s number one industry, North Carolina is well-known for its beautiful acres of farm land and variety of crops. The blacklands, an area of the state often overlooked when discussing agriculture, is actually one of the largest crop producing regions of our state. The blacklands encompass the following eight counties in North Carolina: Beaufort, Washington, Hyde, Tyrrell, Dare, Pasoquotank, Carteret and Pamlico.

Originally the blacklands were known as swamp lands until the 1960’s when various farmers from across the nation came in, drained the land and cleared the trees for agricultural use. Today, many crops are grown in the rich and nutritious soils of the blacklands, including corn, soybeans, wheat and chipping potatoes. The NCDA&CS Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth grows and researches these crops each year to better help farmers in the area understand the soil, manage weather conditions and improve upon the crops each year.

One of the most popular tests conducted at the Tidewater Research Station is known as the flood test in soybeans. The soybeans are flooded and studied to determine how they respond both to a heavy amount of rain as well as drought. According to Rusty Collins, superintendent of the research station, “the beans this year that have reacted well to drought have also reacted well to flooding.” Since North Carolina weather is often times unpredictable, blackland farmers are able to use the data collected from this research to better manage their crop despite current conditions. It also helps them prepare in the event of impending storms.

Another popular study being conducted at the station has to do with water management. Small sheds located on the research station grounds actually allow staff members to add or subtract water from the soil depending on what the crop needs. “Our researcher can look at water levels for these crops from his or her mobile phone or directly inside the shed,” said Rusty, “and then the tank itself actually functions as a float system, meaning that when it gets full it simply flushes out and is able to be refilled again.” This technology is incredibly beneficial, again, due to the nature of North Carolina weather. With the ability to control the water levels in the soil, crops will always get the amount that they need despite current conditions.

This year, the research station has added a new crop to the mix, rice. Starting with a small plot of land, the station will be able to study how rice grows in the blackland soil and study different elements of the crop in much the same way as they do with corn, wheat and soybeans. In addition to these field crops, the station is home to several livestock animals, including cows and pigs. “It’s a fun job to work because it’s constantly changing and you are always discovering something new,” Rusty said. “My favorite part is working with researchers to find new and innovative ways to help the agricultural community reach their production goals. The research that is done at Tidewater directly impacts this region of the state.” Rusty and his staff have an immense passion for the industry that shines through the work they do everyday, from crop research and production to livestock and wildlife management.

If you are looking to see some wildlife, Rusty has seen bald eagles, deer and black bears in the area! In fact, black bear damage is another thing being dealt with and studied on the station since they are so prominent in the blacklands of our state.

On August 4th, The Blackland Farm Managers Association hosted a field day in conjunction with Donald’s Flying Service and Manning Bros. Farms for blackland farmers to hear about recent studies, data, recent news and updates from industry professionals and research station staff. N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler started the day off by thanking and addressing all farmers in the blacklands for their hard work and dedication to the agriculture industry. He was then followed by various speakers, including Dr. Charlie Cahoon and Dr. Ron Heiniger with N.C. State Extension, who addressed topics such as methods for managing crop growth, impacts of planting date, pest management, weed control, variety research trials and more.

The speaking event was accompanied by a variety of agriculture vendors, including Nutrien, N.C. Farm Bureau and the N.C. Forest Service. Staff at these booths not only offered swag, but were also available to talk to farmers about how their products or organization could benefit the farm. At the conclusion of the event, food trucks were provided to offer a delicious meal to attendees. Food items ranged from seafood to BBQ, chicken salad and cheese fries!

Events like these are crucial to the improvement and advancement of the agriculture industry in North Carolina because they not only allow for local farmers to come together and share knowledge and challenges of the area, but also allow for industry experts and researchers to share updates and new information gathered throughout the year. The blacklands is a thriving place for the agriculture community, so keeping these bonds strong is vitally important to keeping the industry strong. Thank you to all our blackland farmers and partners who helped put this event on and continue to produce the foods that we love in that region!