Today’s Topic: Federal grants will support specialty-crop sector

Southern Farm Network logoAgriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler sits down each week with Southern Farm Network’s Rhonda Garrison to discuss “Today’s Topic.”

The 2014 farm bill increased funding for the federal Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to $72.5 million, which should lead to an increase in money allocated to North Carolina.

The federal program aims to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in the marketplace. It is funded by USDA, but managed by state agriculture departments. Last year, NCDA&CS was able to award nearly $1.2 million for projects across the state.

The application period in North Carolina is open, and the deadline to apply is May 2. The department will accept grant requests ranging from $20,000 to $200,000 from nonprofit organizations, commodity associations, state and local government agencies, colleges and universities. Grants are not available for projects that directly benefit a single organization, institution or individual.

Projects involving the following specialty crops are eligible: fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, culinary herbs and spices, medicinal plants, as well as nursery, floriculture and horticulture crops. Funding is also available for projects aimed at developing local and regional food systems and improving access to food.

Click here for grant guidelines and an application. If you have questions about this program, contact Jeff Camden at 919-707-3111.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss this grant program.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.


Get ready for produce season with these farmers market events

Spring has officially sprung, and with it the farmers markets are starting to buzz with more activity. Several events are planned at our four state-owned farmers markets in Asheville, Charlotte, Colfax and Raleigh. Mark your calendars for these events this month:

greenhouse veggie day

Get a free greenhouse tomato sandwich at Greenhouse Vegetable Day at the State Farmers Market or the Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market.

Greenhouse Vegetable Day, State Farmers Market, Raleigh
This celebration of greenhouse vegetables takes place Thursday, April 17, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free greenhouse tomato sandwiches and recipes will be available.

Spring Farm and Equipment Consignment Auction, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, Colfax
This is a consignment auction for farm and construction equipment. A preview will be held Friday, April 18, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the auction starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 19. For more information and to view photos of consigned items, check out the auctioneer’s website.

Gourd Day, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
Gourds aren’t just for the fall! On Saturday, April 19, come celebrate all things gourds from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Farmers Area 1.

Herbal Thyme Herb Guild’s Herb Festival 2014, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
Learn more about selecting, planting, growing, harvesting and using herbs Saturday, April 26, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, April 27, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The herb guild will present programs on the many uses of herbs, including medicinal, culinary, decorative, aromatherapy and more.

Fire Safety Day, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
This public safety event is sponsored by the Colfax Fire Department on Saturday, April 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Greenhouse Vegetable Day, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
Stop by the market on Friday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to get a free greenhouse tomato sandwich.

5th Annual Echo Carving Invitational, “Carving For The Cure,” Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
This annual event, sponsored by Echo Outdoor Power Equipment, Joe’s Tractor Sales, the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market and others features chainsaw carving. Chainsaw artists will show off their talents throughout the weekend and then pieces created during the event will be auctioned off to benefit Susan G. Komen Northwest NC.

Plan ahead for other market events:

  • May 1 – Strawberry Day, State Farmers Market
  • May 2 – Strawberry Day, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
  • May 2-4 – 25th Spring Herb Festival, WNC Farmers Market, Asheville
  • May 30-April 1 – Spring Craft Fair, Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
  • June 7 – Crawfish Day, State Farmers Market
  • June 19 – Blueberry Day, State Farmers Market

News Roundup: April 5-11

News Roundup logo 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. Click on the links to go straight to the full story.

  • “Some NC farmers markets struggle to accept food stamps,” The News & Observer: Consumers can use food stamps to buy produce at grocery stores, but the freshest local fruits and vegetables for sale at farmers markets are often not available to them. Many local markets would love to sell to those shoppers but find they don’t have the manpower or money to be able to accept food stamps. …
  • “US bacon prices rise after virus kills baby pigs,” Charlotte Observer: A virus never before seen in the U.S. has killed millions of baby pigs in less than a year, and with little known about how it spreads or how to stop it, it’s threatening pork production and pushing up prices by 10 percent or more. …
  •  “Asheville area natural products industry on the rise,” Asheville Citizen-Times: Western North Carolina is not just where the wild things grow, but home to a growing number of businesses using technology to turn those native plants into consumer products. Plants harvested from the wild have provided hard-earned cash for mountaineers for decades. Throughout the 20th century, wildcrafters brought their freshly picked and dug ginseng, galax and other herbs from the woods to local buyers. …
  • “NIHS producing top farmers for the future,” Statesville Record and Landmark: If you’re a farmer and thinking about purchasing livestock, it’s probably wise to consult a North Iredell High School student. Or, more specifically, one of eight from the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) club who placed in the top four in the NC FFA State Livestock Judging competition in Raleigh in late March. NIHS’ FFA club sent two teams, competing in the junior and senior divisions, and ended up with both in the top four at the March 25 event held at the Raleigh fairgrounds. …
  •  “Durham schools boost anti-obesity effort,” Durham Herald-Sun: As director of child nutrition for Durham Public Schools, James Keaten is transforming cafeterias into places where fresh fruits and vegetables are replacing junk food. What may be surprising is that students, for the most part, love it.  Even salads offered in middle schools are being snapped up. Keaten knows that if students don’t like the food offered, they won’t eat it. So he tries to make it tasty and interesting. …
  • “A 20-year first: EPA proposing changes to pesticide use,” Carolina Free Press: While pesticides can help farmers raise lusher Christmas trees and juicier tomatoes, they can also be a threat to thousands of farmworkers in Western North Carolina who plant and harvest crops on farmland throughout the mountains. Those risks are the focus of a set of proposed changes to federal rules governing pesticide use on farms. …
  •  “Livestock show teaches life lessons,” Durham Herald-Sun: It is raining and humid at the agricultural facility at Orange High School in Hillsborough. Here, two market steers, a posse of goats and lambs, and a contingent of market hogs are being groomed, having their hair done, and even receiving some fine-detailed ear cleansing. It is the eve of the Central Piedmont Livestock show, held today and Thursday on Orange Grove Road in Hillsborough. For more than six decades, youths from Durham, Person, and surrounding counties have shown animals at the show that are judged, and eventually sold. While the show has endured, some things have changed. “Kids don’t live on farms and have animals like they used to,” said David Latta, one of three agriculture teachers at Orange High. …
  • “Wheat straw shortage frustrates WNC retailers,” Asheville Citizen-Times News: If you’re planning a spring lawn project that requires a bale of straw, you might be waiting a while. Wet weather and a poor wheat harvest last fall are contributing to a shortage of straw across the Southeast, home improvement giant Home Depot said Monday. Lowe’s also pointed to the wet weather and high demand during the spring lawn care season as reasons for the shortage. Workers at Lowe’s and Home Depot told local customers over the weekend and on Monday that it would be a month or two before they had any bales for sale. A decision by a family of farmers to get out of the wheat straw business is contributing, a supplier said. …
  • “Lumberton officials support horse stall expansion,” Fayetteville Observer: Lumberton officials have pledged support for a horse stall expansion project that could have a significant economic effect on the area, officials said Wednesday. Members of the Lumberton City Council Policy Committee approved allocating up to $30,000 to be used for site work at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center, just east of the city. The plan includes adding a barn with 200 horse stalls to the center. …



Got to Be N.C. Competition Dining: Chef Michelle Bailey of Season’s at Highland Lake

G2BNC Competition DiningOnce a month we highlight a chef and recipes from the Got to Be N.C. Competition Dining series. This month, we are featuring Michelle Bailey of Season’s at Highland Lake in Flat Rock. Bailey describes her cooking style as “refined American Cuisine utilizing local and sustainably-sourced ingredients with a focus on traditional southern techniques and international flavor profiles.”

The Got to Be N.C. Competition Dining Series faces off two local chefs in a single-elimination, blind-dinner format. The chef’s menu is created around the North Carolina ingredient that is revealed at noon on the day of the competition. This secret ingredient must be used in each course. Grand prize is $2,000 and a red chef’s jacket. The competition is held in Asheville, Blowing Rock, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington.


Diners at the Fire on the Rock final, held at the Lioncrest at Biltmore.

Bailey is the first female chef to win a red jacket since the series started in 2012. The Fire on the Rock series started March 10 with eight chefs from Asheville, Boone and Flat Rock competing. The final competition was between Bailey and Chef Sam Etheridge of Ambrozia Bar & Bistro in Asheville. The two featured ingredients were Lusty Monk Mustards and Beulah’s Bavarian Pretzels, both based in Asheville.

Following is Bailey’s recipe for cider-brined N.C. pork tenderloin with brown butter pecan sauce, apple relish, whipped celery root and shaved Brussels sprouts:

Cider-Brined Pork Tenderloin
2 pounds pork tenderloin (Heritage Farms)
2 quarts apple cider (preferably local)
2 each bay leaves
8 each garlic cloves, smashed
½ yellow onion, large diced
½ cup kosher salt
½ tablespoon black peppercorns
2 each sprigs of fresh rosemary
5 each sprigs of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon butter

Combine 1 quart of cider with salt, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and herbs. Bring to a boil and add 1 quart of cold cider. Chill the brine and then pour over the pork. Let sit six hours under refrigeration. Drain pork from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle pork with paprika and cracked black pepper. Heat grapeseed oil in a sauté pan over med/high heat. Sear pork on all sides and add butter. Baste with butter and then place in the oven to finish cooking. Cook to an internal temperature of 145-150.

Brown Butter Pecan Sauce
1 cup toasted pecans, ground
1 shallot, minced
1 stick butter
½ cup heavy cream
½  tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves only, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook butter over medium heat in a small saucepan until butter has browned. Add shallot and then heavy cream. Cook two minutes and then add pecans. Stir well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, add fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Apple Relish
1 each small green apple, small diced (Henderson county)
1 each small red apple, small diced (Henderson county)
1 each lemon, zest and juice
1 teaspoon Wedge apple cider
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon sorghum
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
pinch of salt

Toss apples with lemon juice, cider and cider vinegar once they are cut to prevent browning. Add remaining ingredients and let sit 15-30 minutes before serving.

Whipped Celery Root
2 pounds celery root, peeled and large diced
1 each Yukon gold potato, peeled and large diced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup Wedge apple cider
salt as needed

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until potatoes and celery root are cooked through. Transfer contents to a blender and add liquid as needed to purée. Adjust salt to taste.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard (Lusty Monk)
1 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and pepper as needed

Slice Brussels sprouts ¼-inch thick using a mandoline or knife. You may also use the slicing attachment on your food processor, but trim the bottoms first. Heat butter over medium high heat and just as it begins to brown, add the sprouts. Season with salt and pepper and sauté 3 to 5 minutes, tossing frequently. Add vinegar and mustard and then adjust seasonings to taste.


NCDA&CS staff trains others on foaming

Staff from the Veterinary and Emergency Programs divisions spent a recent day on a Moore County poultry farm training U.S. Department of Agriculture contractors how to humanely depopulate a poultry flock using foam. The contractors were from disaster response companies in Wisconsin, Mississippi and Louisiana that are under contract with USDA to go into states at times of disaster when the state lacks the manpower to respond to animal disasters. No birds were used in the training and the poultry houses used have been empty for about a year.

Foam is used only in instances where an entire flock needs to be euthanized because of disease or injury. It is not a way to kill animals before slaughter. Six NCDA&CS employees deployed to Alabama after tornadoes struck that state a few years ago and demolished poultry houses. They helped poultry farmers there in cases where injured flocks were stuck inside collapsed houses and needed to be humanely euthanized. Teams help depopulate flocks in North Carolina a few times each year because of disease outbreaks or injuries related to collapsed houses.


A Veterinary Division employee shoots foam into the poultry house.


A veterinary technician explains how the pump and proportioner work to make the proper consistency of foam.

No farmer ever wants to be in the situation where he has to depopulate an entire flock, especially because of a disease outbreak. It is an emotional ordeal for everyone involved. Foam is a good option because it is gentle enough to not overly excite the birds and kills them quickly. The foam is also environmentally safe to use and dissipates on its own.

The department has become a national leader in this technique. NCDA&CS staff have taken the equipment and modified several units to improve the design and make them interchangeable. They’ve also literally written a manual on how to do it. The equipment is available for use by other states if needed. Because of the hands-on training and manual, the contractors said they feel confident in their ability to take a crew onto a farm, operate the equipment and handle the situation confidently.



The beautiful Bradford pear: In the eye of the beholder

The Bradford pear is widely planted as a landscape tree (left), but has since become an invasive tree, as seen along these roads near Raleigh (right).  Images: Dan Tenaglia,, (left image); Kelly Oten, NCFS (right images).

The Bradford pear is widely planted as a landscape tree (left), but has since become an invasive tree, as seen along these roads near Raleigh (right). Images: Dan Tenaglia,, (left image); K. Oten, NCFS (right images).

After months of cold, ice and snowpocalypses, the first signs of spring are a welcome sight to North Carolina. Along with tulips popping their pretty heads up, the white, fluffy flowers of the Bradford pear tree are among the first bloomers, alerting North Carolinians that warmer weather lies just ahead. Yes, North Carolina, spring has finally arrived!

The Bradford pear is often chosen by landscapers. Along with being one of the first spring bloomers with gorgeous white, clustered flowers, it also has a rich color in the fall. It is a fast-growing tree, yet maintains its idyllic oval and symmetrical shape as it grows. The trees themselves do not get very large and are an ideal size for many urban settings.

However, beauty does not last forever. Because of the acute angles at which the branches grow, the branches are weak and split easily in moderate to high wind speeds. Not only does this take away from aesthetics of the tree, but it can be a hazard to people passing by/under the tree or to nearby property. In the Piedmont area of N.C., Bradford pears peak blooms occurred from mid-March to early April.  They are currently losing their blooms in exchange for leaves.

Beauty may be skin deep as well. While the appearance of the tree is highly desirable, the smell that accompanies the flowers is often not described the same way. Likened with the smell of fish and other foul odors, it causes many people near a Bradford pear to wrinkle their nose and ask: “What’s that smell?”

The kicker to all of this is that the tree is now considered an invasive tree. Native to China and Korea, the Bradford pear is a variety of the Chinese callery pear introduced in the 1960s. It was originally bred to be seedless and sterile since it cannot self-pollinate. But, as the fictional Dr. Ian Malcolm from “Jurassic Park” says: “Life finds a way.” Additional cultivars of the Chinese callery pear were released for plantings. Because the trees are only incapable of pollinating with the same cultivar, the arrival of additional varieties led to cross-pollination, fruit formation, and thus, viable seeds. Seeds are easily dispersed by birds, which consume the seeds and deposit them in droppings a variable distance away. The invasive callery pear tree, which has thorns, can be seen along highways and are quite conspicuous when in full bloom.

So when it comes to the Bradford pear, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many still consider this an ideal yard tree, while others may go so far as to consider it a nuisance. It is certainly on the “no plant” list for those concerned with forest health in North Carolina, and both the good and the ugly about this tree should be considered before planting.


NCDA&CS inspectors finding problems with fertilizer

NCDA&CS inspectors set up a mobile work station in the back of a truck to check the weight on bags of fertilizer. (L-R, Marshall Shingleton of Statonburg and Jimmy Butler of Greenville.)

NCDA&CS inspectors Marshall Singleton, left, and Jimmy Butler set up a mobile work station in the back of a truck to check the weight of bags of fertilizer.

Maybe it was the wet weather clogging the bagging machine or poor quality control with the distributors, but whatever the reason, inspectors with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have failed more than 35,000 bags of fertilizer for improper weight during recent inspections.

“Our inspectors spend the month of March inspecting bagged fertilizer across the state,” said John Gurkin, area supervisor with the department’s Standards Division. “We make a special effort to inspect the half dozen or so facilities that bag their own, distribution centers and then a sampling of retail stores. If more than one bag from a sample lot of 24 weighs less than the maximum allowable variance, we have to issue a stop sale on the whole lot.”

Companies that are issued a stop sale have two options: Send the fertilizer back and provide the Standards Division a copy of the packing slip showing the return, or re-bag the fertilizer and agree to another inspection.

“We have definitely seen more problems this year than usual,” said Gurkin. “One reason could be the wet weather is causing the fertilizer to stick to the sides of the hopper when bagging. Another reason could be the company is just not doing the spot checks at the beginning and end of bagging that need to be done to ensure the bag weighs the correct amount.”

“The cost of fertilizer is 30 to 35 cents a pound, which means that a residential consumer is probably out a dollar at most if they purchased bags that are not the correct weight,” Gurkin said. “However, if you consider a 5,000-bag lot of fertilizer, with the average shortage being a half pound, the total cost to consumers per lot could be up to $875.”

Inspector Timmy Coward of Trenton determines the tare weight.

Inspector Timmy Coward of Trenton determines the tare weight.

Inspectors receive training and follow standards and protocols adopted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Sample size is based upon the number of bags of fertilizer on the premises. Most sites have 251 to 3,200 bags, which require a sample lot of 24. Inspectors begin by counting the number of bags on site to determine the sample-lot quantity, then a bag of the fertilizer is emptied to determine the weight of the empty bag, or tare weight. The tare weight cannot be included in the weight of the product for sale. After the tare weight is determined, inspectors weigh each bag to determine if it falls within an acceptable range. Most fertilizer comes in 50-pound bags, which means that the maximum allowable variance is a half-pound shortage. Companies are not penalized for bags that are overweight, although the company is notified that they are over the stated weight.

As inspections have continued, problems with fertilizers have decreased. Many of the earlier issues were caught at the bagging facilities and distribution centers before being sent to retail locations. Gurkin and his team recently inspected a retail location in Tarboro. This business was selling 10-10-10 fertilizer from a plant in Chesapeake, Va. At this location, all but one of the bags of fertilizer came in above 50 pounds. The average overage was about a half pound.

More than 35,000 bags of fertilizer have been issued a stop sale this year.  This inspection of the Southern States in Tarboro passed with an average overage of a half pound.

More than 35,000 bags of fertilizer have been issued a stop-sale order this year. This inspection of the Southern States in Tarboro passed with an average overage of a half pound.

North Carolina is one of the few states that inspects the weight of bagged fertilizer. “Sometimes a distributor will come in from out of state to sell fertilizer and not be aware of our inspections,” said Gurkin. “A few of the companies we’ve had issues with this year will most likely be more careful with the products they provide North Carolina in the future.”

“We want companies to fix the problem,” said Stephen Benjamin, director of the Standards Division. “If inspectors return to a business and the problem is still there, that’s when we issue a notice of violation.” Notices of violation can carry a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

Standards Division inspectors provide seasonal inspections for several products, including checking that scales at pick-your-own farms and farmers markets are calibrated correctly, taxi cab meters work properly, bagged mulch weighs the amount stated on the package, and right before the holiday season, hams and turkeys sold at grocery stores are being sold at the correct weight. These seasonal inspections are done in addition to routine inspections on gas pumps, price scanners and retail scales throughout the state.

“The division can check any product sold by weight,” said Benjamin. “When consumers buy a product, we want them to be confident that the weight listed on the product is the correct weight.”


Today’s Topic: NC farmers say they will plant more soybeans, less corn this year

Southern Farm Network logoAgriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler sits down each week with Southern Farm Network’s Rhonda Garrison to discuss “Today’s Topic.”

North Carolina farmers indicate they will plant more acres of soybeans and fewer acres of corn this year, according to the USDA Prospective Plantings report.

If the forecast holds, farmers will plant 1.6 million acres of soybeans this year, 10 percent more than they planted in 2013.

The following crops also are projected to have increased acreage this year:

  • Cotton, 470,000 acres, a 1 percent increase;
  • Peanuts, 83,000 acres, up 1 percent;
  • Sweet potatoes, 61,000 acres, a 6 percent increase;
  • Tobacco, 183,800 acres, up about 2 percent.

If acreage of some crops is going up, then other crops will be going down. Corn plantings are projected to total 850,000 acres, a decrease of 9 percent from last year. Winter wheat is already in the ground, and those plantings are down 16 percent from last year.

A number of factors influence a farmer’s planting decisions, including input costs, world supply and demand for the crop and, of course, the price he can get for that crop. Take corn and soybeans, for example. Last year, the average price for corn in March was $7.72 a bushel. This year in March, the average was $5.21 a bushel. That’s a pretty significant difference.

There has been a little more stability in soybean prices, comparing 2013 with 2014. Last year’s March average was $14.43 a bushel, and this year it was $14.23.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss planting intentions and what can change them.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.


Faces in the Field: Jennifer Haugland, DVM

We have a diverse workforce here at the NCDA&CS that focuses on consumer protection, food safety, agricultural marketing, accuracy of weights and measures, plant conservation, livestock protection … and more. Through our Faces in the Field series, we’ll talk to employees and provide a behind-the-scenes look at what they do to serve North Carolina.

Dr. Jennifer Haugland didn’t set out to be a veterinary diagnostician, but it’s a job that she says was “made for her.” After spending time in the field and on the farm in Pennsylvania as a large-animal veterinarian, Haugland moved south seeking better hours. She also found a unique calling. Being a veterinary diagnostician means trying to figure out what is making an animal or group of animals sick or what killed them. Sometimes the answer can help protect the rest of a herd and sometimes the answer is just for an owner’s peace of mind. And sometimes it can even help solve an animal abuse case. Haugland says she finds her current job very fulfilling, and doesn’t intend to go back to private practice any time soon, but the skills and experience she has gained in the necropsy lab make her a much better veterinarian.

We recently caught up with Haugland on a slow day at the lab. She explains her job and what she does for our state’s valuable livestock industry.

Fast Tube by Casper






Photos from the Field: Vance County Farmers Market open house

The Vance County Regional Farmers Market is almost ready to house farmers, produce, baked goods, flowers and more. Thursday, the site was host to a ribbon cutting and luncheon for partners who were involved in planning and building it. Dewitt Hardee of the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund represented the department, as the farmers market received a $100,000 grant from the fund.

2014-04-03_13-44-30_127The opening date for the facility will be set after a market manager is hired. Vance County ranks 83rd in the state in overall agricultural production. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are 246 farms in Vance County on 55,091 acres. County farmers produce hay, tobacco, cattle, soybeans, wheat, fruits and vegetables.

2014-04-03_13-45-20_66 The NCADFP’s purpose is to support projects that encourage the preservation of qualifying agricultural, horticultural and forest lands to foster the growth, development and sustainability of family farms. Grants are awarded to secure agricultural conservation easements on lands used for agricultural production; to support public and private enterprise programs that promote profitable and sustainable agricultural, horticultural and forestland activities; and for the development of agricultural plans.