Jan. 30, 2013. Western North Carolina farmers received $148,500 in WNC Agricultural Options grants to diversify their farm businesses in the 2013 growing season. (See list of farms below.)
The 28 grant recipients celebrated Tuesday at an event at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. The goal of the farms’ projects is to enhance profitability.
The WNC AgOptions grant program has been funded exclusively by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission since 2003.
“The Commission is very pleased to fund and support the WNC AgOptions program for another year,” said Bill Teague, Chairman of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “We expect to see some unique projects, because mountain farmers have shown they are resourceful, innovative and committed to making their farms successful.”
Six farm businesses received $3,000, one received $4,500, and 21 received $6,000. Many of the farmers are undertaking projects that are unique to their counties, and some are leading the way in innovative agriculture nationwide.
Tester Dairy Farm in Watauga County is creating a hydroponic fodder system, which grows barley, rye and wheat from seed to sprouts in eight days so that the farmers can feed their cattle high-protein grasses daily. The fresh palatable feed is proven to enhance animals’ milk production, improve fertility and decrease respiratory issues. Thomas and Margaret Tester said they are renovating the farm so that their granddaughter Jessica Lawrence can take it over without the worries of weather, lease agreements and costs associated with row crops.
South Valley Nursery and Landscaping in Avery County is building a micropropagation lab so that grant recipient Tyler Buchanan can mass produce unique plants such as native orchids that are expensive to propagate using traditional techniques. Tissue culture requires a significant upfront investment, specialized training and a sterile environment to be able to produce new plants in vitro (in a test tube), but payoff can be significant since the demand for these rare native plants is high.
Joe Ward in Jackson County is establishing a no-till planting system in an area where few farmers use this method. In no-till fields, soil erosion and runoff decrease as a network of fibrous and tap roots grow throughout the soil profile, providing pathways for air and moisture. This method also creates a good environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria, fungi and enzymes, all crucial for healthy crops.
The WNC AgOptions grants help sustain several significant farms, such as a 65-acre Old Fort property that the ancestors of grant recipient Alvin Lytle first acquired in the 1850’s, as well as a Bethel Valley farm that has been in the family of grant recipient Joseph Cathey for more than 200 years. As profits increase, Reems Creek Nursery and Landscaping will be able to boost employment beyond its current 25 employees while also continuing to preserve the rural quality of Reems Creek Valley. With the help of the grant, Addison Vineyard, a part of a fourth generation cattle farm in Leicester, will be on track to reaching their goal of profitability by the eighth year of wine grape production in 2016.
The grant projects help many of the grant recipients’ achieve their dreams of passing their farming operations to their children or grandchildren. Rick Walker, who is building a poultry processing facility in Cherokee County, named his farm after his four sons, Ricky, Joseph, Daniel and Joshua, who are ages six and under. “4 Sons Farm is the name I chose not only because I have four sons, but because it is for my sons,” Walker said. “I began farming to provide wholesome food for our children, to teach them an ancient and respected way of life, and to create a business legacy to hand down to them.”
N.C. Cooperative Extension implements the WNC AgOptions program and works directly with farmers as they complete their projects. “As we begin our ninth grant cycle, it is very rewarding to look back at all the successful farm operations and creative enterprises that have grown from the initial investments,” said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. “The farmers in western North Carolina are the most vital component of the program. It is their ideas and their dedication to the success of those ideas that make it all work.”
In partnership with N.C. Cooperative Extension, the non-profit organization WNC Communities administers WNC AgOptions grants. WNC Communities is dedicated to providing a unique forum for leaders in western North Carolina to carry out innovative programs to improve the quality of life for rural communities and to enhance the agriculture economy.
“WNC Communities is delighted to serve as fiscal agent in bringing these funds to creative and innovative farmers throughout western North Carolina,” said L.T. Ward, Vice President of WNC Communities. “We are extremely appreciative to N. C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission for their long standing and continuing commitment to WNC AgOptions and the farmers of this region.”
Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension, WNC Communities, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services–Marketing Division, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and other leaders in agriculture. For more information, see the following: WNC Agricultural Options: www.wncagoptions.org; N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers: www.ces.ncsu.edu; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission: www.tobaccotrustfund.org; WNC Communities: www.wnccommunities.org.