August: What’s happening on the farm?

Farms are places of year-round activity. There is almost always something going on, regardless of the season. Each month we highlight one of our research stations and the work taking place on the farm during that month as well as give a little insight into the world of farming and innovative agricultural research.

There are 18 research stations across the state, operated in partnership between the department, N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University. The stations are strategically located to account for different soil types, climates, crops and livestock production. Department staff manage the day-to-day operations of the stations and the research field work, while researchers from the universities set up the parameters of the research. This month we are highlighting the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station in Rocky Mount. 

Field days are important outreach opportunities for research stations, where farmers and visitors can see research being conducted firsthand in a field setting and gain new insights into production techniques from researchers. The staff with the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station has been busy in recent weeks getting the station ready for Cotton Field Day on Sept. 10 and a Wild Soybean Breeding Tour on Sept. 30. A Sorghum and Corn Aflatoxin Control Field Day was held Aug. 14. These events draw farmers from near and far in Eastern North Carolina because of the widespread production of these crops in this part of the state.

The Upper Coastal Plain Research Station has been showcasing its agricultural research work for a long time, as it is the oldest of the 18 state-operated stations in the state, starting on a trial basis in 1902. The station has about 450 acres in research trials. Dr. Clyde Bogle has been the station superintendent for over 24 years.

Cotton, soybeans, sorghum and corn  are not the only crops at the station. It also produces burley and flue-cured tobacco, peanuts, small grain and small acreages of other crops. In fact, in one field visitors can see burley tobacco growing beside flue-cured tobacco, something that does not occur in real life. The site contains three black shank nurseries and Granville wilt nursery for developing disease management strategies and disease-resistant cultivars in tobacco, Sclerotina and CBR disease nurseries for fields involved in weed and insect studies. Weed management strategies are being developed for the various crops utilizing nearly 50 acres devoted to weed nurseries. Also, insect management studies are being conducted in tobacco, cotton, soybeans and corn.

Burley tobacco (plant with longer, more upright leafs in the foreground) and flue-cured tobacco (in the background) are planted side by side in one field at the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station.

Burley tobacco (plants at right with longer, more upright leaves) and flue-cured tobacco (plants to the left with shorter, more arching leaves) are planted side by side in one field at the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station in Rocky Mount. Research specialist Louis Pitt manages tobacco production at the station.

One of the research station’s three black shank nurseries. The white bags over the tobacco blooms are used to collect seed from plants that were more resistant to the disease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creig Deal, a research specialist who manages all crop trials other than tobacco, recently showed off some of the work on the station, and crops and test plots looked good with a few obvious exceptions — fields being used for weed control and disease and insect research.

In a normal growing situation, farmers would try to keep weeds from growing up with plants, Deal said, but in a research situation rows that have been treated for weeds and those left untreated illustrate the effectiveness of various types of weed control. In another field, Dan Mott, an agricultural research specialist with N.C. State University, was looking for insects in a cotton field. Using two flat wooden sticks and a black canvas, Mott hit the leaves of the cotton plant knocking loose any insects in the plant onto the canvas. Then he quickly counted and inventoried the insects so he would know the insect pressure in the field.

Farmers routinely survey fields for pests as part of day-to-day management of crops.

This photo shows a weed research plot. The two rows in the center have been treated for weeds; the two rows on either side have not been treated.

This photo shows a weed research plot. The two rows in the center have been treated for weeds; the two rows on either side have not been treated.

 

Agricultural research specialist Dan Mott looks for insects in a cotton field.

Agricultural research specialist Dan Mott looks for insects in a cotton field.

 

Agricultural research specialist Dan Mott discusses the insect findings with Creig Deal, the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station crop research specialist.

Agricultural research specialist Dan Mott discusses the insect findings with Creig Deal, the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station crop research specialist.

Research is expected to help farmers meet future food needs by finding new plants and techniques to increase yields and efficiencies on the farm. The United Nations predicts farmers will need to increase production by 75 to 100 percent by 2050, so agricultural research will be critical going forward.

Learning what  doesn’t work is equally as important as what does work when it comes to agricultural production, and saves farmers the time and expense of having to do their own experiments to improve crop production. A calendar of field days planned at the research stations can be found here.

 

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Flavor, NC: Coon Rock Farm

Flavor NC logoTwice a month we feature local restaurants, farms and farmers markets featured on episodes of UNC-TV’s Flavor, NC. This week, we review episode one of the first season in which hostess Lisa Prince highlights Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough and  Zely & Ritz restaurant in Raleigh.

There are more than 600 family farms in Orange County. Coon Rock Farm, located in Hillsborough, is a sustainable farm bordering the Eno River. Owners Richard Holcomb and Jamie Dement grow several garden crops and provide pasture-raised chickens, eggs, pigs, lambs and goats.

The same year Holcomb and Dement bought Coon Rock Farm, they opened Zely and Ritz in Raleigh. More than half of the ingredients used at the restaurant are fresh from Coon Rock Farm. This includes more than 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, including Mr. Stripey and Cherokee purple. Be sure to watch the whole episode to get Lisa’s tips for choosing and storing tomatoes.

Below is the recipe for Bacon Basil Tomato Sauce, which  uses many of the ingredients found at Coon Rock Farms. Serve over pasta for a quick and easy lunch or dinner.

Ingredients:

1 pound bacon
2 pounds peeled, chopped tomatoes
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Slice bacon into 1/4-inch chunks. Fry in skillet until almost done. Add minced garlic. When garlic starts to look clear, add tomatoes and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Add basil and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta and garnish with fresh grated cheese.

 

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Blogging from the fireline

With humid conditions, the summer months are typically less active for the North Carolina Forest Service in terms of battling wildfires. However, the same isn’t true for other parts of the country. As part of a cooperative agreement, the N.C. Forest Service has been dispatching employees to assist with suppressing wildfires in the western United States.

A dispatch normally lasts for 14 days, plus two days for travel at each end of the assignment. Jobs filled by NCFS personnel include everything from the top manager on a fire (the incident commander) to members of hand crews digging fire breaks in the soil. At press time, there were 93 employees assigned to out-of-state incidents.

Mecklenburg County Forester Eddie Reese recently sent back an update from the front lines of the South Fork Complex fire in Oregon. Reese’s group is at the end of its dispatch and will return to North Carolina this week.

Western fire detail has an ideological air about it that the public seems to fear and respect. Ever since the early 1900s it has been the job of forestry agencies to contain all wildfires that occur in nature to protect life and property. Over the last 114 years our western areas have been impacted from the decision to completely contain and extinguish all wildfires. Also, our western areas have experienced large insect killed timber areas that aren’t harvested and also extended droughts that have added to the overall fire potential in our western states.

This year, 2014, has been another one for the record books for the Northwestern United States. Northern California, Oregon and Washington have been the victims of all of the above factors coming together to make this year’s fire season extremely active. To date, the N.C. Forest Service as sent more than 120 personnel out to aid in the containment of these wildfires and gain further experience dealing with extreme fires. I had the opportunity to come to Oregon to help this year with the South Fork Complex. The last couple of days have been really active on this fire. We have two N.C. Forest Service hand crews on this fire, as well as myself as Situation Unit Leader, a Division Supervisor, and a Communication Technician. We all have our role to play — from the crew actively engaging the fire on the fireline, to Division Supervisors supervising the crews and other resources on the fireline, to the Communication Technician helping maintain radio communication between all of the personnel on the fire, to my position, Situation Unit Leader, which is as you would think, keeping abreast of the current situation of the fire and creating maps to aid those on the ground with where they are, and where the fire is headed.

Wildfire is a very fluid “beast” that tends to have a mind of its own. The South Fork Complex is no different. On Aug. 7, the fire jumped across a road and river that were side by side, and burned 7,000 acres in less than six hours. Crews and engines tried to keep the fire contained by using burn out operations (burning brush ahead of the fire) to get a handle on it, but the fire spotted across the burn out areas and continued its push. Our plans change daily and our ground personnel are critical to gaining the upper hand on the fire. To date the South Fork complex has burned about 64,990 acres and is 72 percent contained. The incident has changed from a Type 2 Team to a Type 1 Team.

A typical sleeping arrangement for dispatched fire fighters

A typical sleeping arrangement for dispatched fire fighters.

Preparing a weather balloon

Preparing a weather balloon.

The sun is obscured by the thick smoke in the area.

The sun is obscured by the thick smoke in the area.

A helicopter is on its way to drop water on the fire.

A helicopter is on its way to drop water on the fire.

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Today’s Topic: August crop report forecasts big year for soybeans, cotton

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

USDA’s August crop report forecasts a big year for soybeans, cotton, flue-cured tobacco and peanuts in North Carolina.

More than 1.6 million acres of soybeans have been planted in North Carolina this year, and the yield is forecast to be 37 bushels per acre. That combination of acres and yield should push production up 32 percent compared with 2013.

Cotton acres are a little higher than last year, but the yield is forecast to be 939 pounds per acre. That’s 140 pounds higher than last year’s yield. Total production is forecast at 910,000 bales, which is a 19 percent increase.

Production of flue-cured tobacco is forecast at 416 million pounds, which is 16 percent higher than last year. Commissioner Troxler says some in the business are describing the crop as a barn buster, but recent wet weather in eastern North Carolina may temper the yield.

Peanut production also is expected to increase this year. The yield is projected to be 4,000 pounds per acre, which is not far off the record of 4,100 pounds that was set just two years ago. Peanut acreage is forecast at 89,000 acres, and total production is expected to be 356 million pounds. That’s a 13 percent increase over 2013’s totals.

These crops are on the rise, but corn production is forecast to dip about 15 percent this year. Acreage is forecast to be 800,000 acres, and the yield is projected to be 132 bushels per acre. That’s 10 bushels less than last year’s record yield.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss the latest crop report.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.

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Photos from the field: Commissioner Troxler attends Blackland Farm Managers Tour

Commissioner Troxler recently visited the Tidewater Research Station for the Blackland Farm Managers Tour. Troxler and Richard Linton, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, talked about equipment and technology upgrades to the 18 research stations across the state that are operated in partnership between N.C. State, N.C. A&T State University and NCDA&CS. Following are photos from the event.

The entrance to Tidewater Research Station near Plymouth.

The entrance to Tidewater Research Station near Plymouth.

 

From left to right, N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, Rep. Paul Tine, N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton, Commissioner Steve Troxler, Rep. Jimmy Dixon and Dawson Pugh, president of the Blackland Farm Managers Association.

From left to right, N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, Rep. Paul Tine, N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton, Commissioner Steve Troxler, Rep. Jimmy Dixon and Dawson Pugh, president of the Blackland Farm Managers Association.

 

Commissioner Troxler, center, talks with Dean Linton, left, and legislators Tine and Dixon.

Commissioner Troxler, center, talks with Dean Linton , left, and legislators Tine and Dixon.

 

Some of the new equipment being added at the research stations to improve efficiency in production and research. Different brands of equipment are being added since farmers today use a variety of brands.

Some of the new equipment being added at the research stations to improve efficiency in production and research. Different brands of equipment are being added since farmers today use a variety of brands.

 

Bethany Pugh, in the white shirt, was recognized at the Blackland Farm Managers Tour as the regional winner of Monsanto's America's Farmer's Mom of the Year.

Bethany Pugh, in the white shirt, was recognized at the Blackland Farm Managers Tour as the regional winner of Monsanto’s America’s Farmer’s Mom of the Year.

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News Roundup: Aug. 9-15

News Roundup logoEach 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.

  • “Grafting operation called ‘a day to remember’ in farm economy,” Hendersonville Lightning: A global partnership’s decision to locate a plant-grafting operation in Mills River was described as a “monumental” recruitment coup and a “day to remember” for the business of farming in Henderson County and Western North Carolina. The international venture, a partnership of American, Italian and Israeli companies called Tri-Hishtil, announced the greenhouse operation that will bring 125 agricultural, marketing and management jobs to a 42-acre site formerly owned by Van Wingerden International on NC 19. Company officials and local agricultural leaders said the Mills River operation represents the first large-scale vegetable-grafting operation of its kind in the U.S.  …
  • “NC forest ranger from Morganton killed,” Morganton News-Herald: A state forest ranger from Morganton died Wednesday afternoon at Tuttle Educational State Forest. Education Ranger Jimmy Halliburton, 31, died while he and other forest staff members were trying to remove a tree that had fallen in the road, according to information from the state forest service. The crews were trying to use a tractor to remove the tree when the tree hit Halliburton in mid-section. EMS responded but Halliburton was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the information from the state. “We are heartbroken over the loss of Jimmy Halliburton, and our prayers are with his family,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. …
  • “North Carolina Pork Had Been Surging In Russia… Not Anymore,” WUNC: Last year, according the State Department of Agriculture, North Carolina exported about $3.7 million in meat products to Russia. So far this year, that number has increased ten-fold, to $40 million. Now that Russia has banned the import of American beef, pork, and poultry products, that surge will come to a halt. Russia released the list Thursday for what Western products it will no longer allow into the country. The move comes in retaliation for U.S. and European sanctions leveled against Russia as a consequence for its interventions in Ukraine. The news is not a death knell for meat producers (nearly all of North Carolina’s exports to Russia come from the two Smithfield plants in Clinton and Tar Heel). But it will likely mean lost revenue. “The world demand for meat is greater than the supply,” said Peter Thornton, Assistant Director of the NC Department of Agriculture’s International Trade Office. “Yes, you will find a different market. But each time you lose a buyer you lose one more person who will influence the price in a positive direction. So that will have an impact. Hopefully it’s only slight. But it’s nothing you ever want to see.” …
  • “Popular No Calorie Sweetener Being Grown in the Carolinas,” Southern Farm Network: The alternative, no calorie sweetener, Stevia has been under cultivation in North Carolina since 2011 on private lands as well as research plots. Molly Hamilton, Extension Assistant in the Department of Crop Science with NC State: “It is winter hearty, but we had a really hard winter this year and there was a lot of kill in the fields. We are looking at what temperatures it can tolerate and what types of soil it is best grown in. We are expecting that this crop will be harvested for 3-5 years. The growth comes on in the spring and its harvested 1-2 times in the summer then it dies in the winter and resprouts in the spring.” …
  •  “Hops farming takes root,” The Wilson Times: The increasing interest in craft beer in North Carolina has taken off and inspired Guilford and Pam Leggett to grow their own hops in Wilson County. The idea came from their son, Justin, a homebrewer, and resulted in the Leggetts planting their first crop in April on a patch of land off Packhouse Road where they eventually plan to build a house. What they didn’t expect was to have a bumper crop at their first harvest, Aug. 2, and plans are already in the works for a second harvest in September. “We had no idea we would have 50 pounds of hops with our first harvest,” said Pam Leggett. “We were told we would have no hops this year.” …
  • “Growing a new cash crop with Chinese medicinal herbs,” Asheville Citizen-Times: The tobacco raised by Western North Carolina farmers once provided a good cash crop for a product deemed unsafe by the U.S. Surgeon General. Now farmers could make good money raising herbs for better health through traditional Chinese medicine. “These mountains have been growing medicinal herbs forever. A lot of these herbs grow well here and it’s more sustainable agriculture,” said Amy Hamilton, who operates Appalachian Seeds Farm & Nursery in Rutherford County. Hamilton is a founding member of the Appalachian Botanical Alliance, a cooperative of women exploring how to grow and market healing plants from a medical tradition halfway around the world. …
  • “Q&A: Why Farmers Markets Are Growing in the American South,” National Geographic Daily News: Federal assistance programs allow low-income regions to enjoy the season’s bounty. For many living in the lower reaches of the United States, it’s a touch of southern comfort: Farmers markets—with offerings of peaches, sweet corn, watermelon, and cantaloupe—are cropping up across the region, filling “fresh food deserts” with local produce and offering healthier alternatives to low-income families. New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that between 2013 and 2014, five of the states that saw the biggest increase in farmers markets were in the South — Tennessee (20.2 percent), Louisiana (12.1 percent), Texas (6.6 percent), Arkansas (5.4 percent), and North Carolina (4.8 percent). Combined, the five states now support 725 unique markets. …
  • “Race-team owner’s NC vineyard marks 10 years,” Lexington Dispatch: Richard Childress is best known for developing world-renowned race teams, but his name has now become known in a different industry where his demand for perfection has led to a successful winery that is celebrating a major milestone. Childress Vineyards is holding a variety of special events to pay homage to 10 years of wine making. “It’s gone by so fast,” Childress said. “It’s been good. Like everyone else, we have been through challenges, but we’ve had so much support from locals in Davidson County and tremendous support from throughout the state.” …
  • “Port could be home to new cold storage warehouse,” Wilmington Star-News: Plans have been submitted to the city for a major cold storage warehouse to go up at the Port of Wilmington. The plans, submitted Wednesday, call for a 101,537-square-foot building on 6.72 acres at 1 Shipyard Blvd. It will be 44 feet tall, said Charles Schoninger, who heads the facility’s developer, USA InvestCo. The warehouse will have 3 million cubic feet and approximately 11,000 pallet positions, according to its website. …
  • “Sweet potatoes lead produce hit parade in North Carolina,” The Produce News: North Carolina produce crops brought in $608 million last year for fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries. And sweet potatoes led the way, Kevin D. Hardison is quick to point out. Hardison is a marketing specialist with a 14-year career in the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Raleigh that brings a working knowledge of the 60 kinds of produce grown in the Tarheel State. “We’re ranked first in the nation for growing sweet potatoes,” Hardison noted, gesturing toward racks of publications touting North Carolina vodka, butter and chips made from sweet potatoes, microwave-ready yams and even recipes for gourmet meals with sweet potato French fries. …
  • “Deadly U.S. Pig Virus Can Be Carried In Animal Feed: Study,” Reuters: A research study has shown for the first time that livestock feed can carry a virus that has killed about 13 percent of the U.S. hog herd, the study’s lead author said, confirming suspicions among farmers and veterinarians battling outbreaks. The findings, published this month in the peer-reviewed BMC Veterinary Research journal, bring increased scrutiny on the feed industry in the fight against Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, or PEDv. The fast-moving virus has killed an estimated 8 million piglets since it was first identified in the United States last year, pushing U.S. pork prices to record highs. …

 

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Got to Be NC Competition Dining: Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne

G2BNC Competition DiningOnce a month we highlight a chef and a recipe from the Got to Be N.C. Competition Dining series. This month, we are featuring Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West in Raleigh. He describes his cooking style as “cooking with love,” and “French classic and modern.”

In the Got to Be N.C. Competition Dining Series faces two local chefs face off in a single-elimination, blind-dinner format. Each chef’s menu is created around a North Carolina ingredient that is revealed at noon on the day of the competition. This secret ingredient must be used in each of three courses, appetizer, entree and dessert. Competitions are held in Asheville, Blowing Rock, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington.


Falcoz-Vigne  went up against Chef Adam Jones of Dean’s Seafood Bar and Grill in the quarter-final round of Fire in the Triangle on July 21. The secret ingredients were Kerala Curry from Pittsboro and Hillsborough Cheese Company labneh . Chef Falcoz-Vigne won the night and went on to compete in the semifinals on July 29.

Fire in the Triangle ended Aug. 4 with Chef Dean Thompson of Flights besting Chef Steve Zanini of Jimmy V’s Steak House & Tavern. Tickets for Battle in the City in Charlotte are on sale now, with a few dates already sold out.

Chef Falcoz-Vigne provided the following winning Elk Meatloaf recipe from course four of the quarter-final battle:

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ground elk meat
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/5 cup of Kerala Curry tomatoes, plus 1/2 cup for spread on the top
  • 1/2 cup bread crumb
  • 1 cup of duck fat
  • some chopped sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put the duck fat in a pan or skillet. Mix carrots, celery and onion together and saute. Add the garlic, toss, and move off the hot burner. Let rest until you need it again.

Meanwhile, grind the elk meat, and incorporate all the elements left, mix well with your hands, it’s always better than all mechanical stuff (another tip from the chef)

To be sure of the seasoning, take 1-2 tablespoons of the mix and cook it in a pan and eat it. That way you will be able to taste if there is enough salt or pepper or if there is other seasoning you would like to add a bit more.

When you are happy with the flavor, form the mixture into a loaf, either in some individual greased containers, or one large one. Spread the Kerala tomato chutney on top.

Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Let the dish rest a little before serving it, first because it will be too hot to eat and, a burnt tongue can’t taste very well. Second, because it’s always better to give a rest to this kind of product, when we expect all the flavor to come together… just relax a moment and let it rest .

Parsnip Puree with Labneh yogurt

  • 2.5 pounds of parsnips, peeled and cleaned
  • ¼ pound of butter
  • ½ pound of Hillsborough Cheese Company labneh
  • white salt and white pepper
  • 1 pound of love

Cut the parsnips and cook until soft. Puree in a food processor, add the butter.

Next, add the labneh yogurt cheese from Hillsborough Cheese Company, but not with the electric appliance, because at this point we need to be delicate… Let’s respect the product, this cheese is a fine one, so, you have to be careful when blending.

Add salt and pepper, but white pepper. Why? because What you see influences what you taste! And the labneh parsnip puree is so pretty, with no trace of black pepper. The specks of the black pepper will deter your attention when it come s to the moment of using your taste buds.

Use a spoon and try, If you like it, it’s good, if not, simply add more seasoning!

Heirloom tomato demi-glace:

  • 2 carrots
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup cup duck fat or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 heirloom tomatoes
  • celery, garlic, thyme
  • 1 quart of veal, beef or chicken (or all three of them)

In a pot, add some duck fat, carrots, onions, celery, garlic cloves, thyme, and heirloom tomatoes cut into chunks. Heat over medium heat, let cook, like confit (we said that when the products cooked in some kind of fat, together, like when friends hang-out and chill with each other and each bring the best of themselves to the party).

When the color and the smell looks right, add the veal or beef base, combined with some chicken base too if you got some, and let cook slowly, until the consistency looks thick and not runny. You can also add a little bit of the Kerala tomato chutney, if you have extra, it will be a delicious addition.

Use a strainer to separate the vegetables from the liquid, retaining the jus, or sauce. Adjust the seasoning to taste, if needed, with the salt and the white pepper.

For the finished plate – a spoon of parsnips, a ladle of sauce, a slice of meatloaf, and voila! Bon appetit!

 

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Invasive insect vs. invasive plant: The kudzu bug and kudzu

Kudzu. You’ve probably heard of and seen this climbing vine that can cover, smother and kill other plants. The kudzu bug is an insect that may feed on not only kudzu, but other legumes as well. It may sound like a biological control effort gone awry, but the story is quite the opposite. Kudzu was an intentional introduction, while the kudzu bug was accidental. Regardless, both species are non-native and both species can be quite a nuisance to North Carolinians.

The kudzu bug (close-up, left) can be quite a nuisance to homeowners, congregating on the outside of light-colored structures in the fall and eventually finding their way inside.  Images: D.R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

The kudzu bug (close-up, left) can be quite a nuisance to homeowners, congregating on the outside of light-colored structures in the fall and eventually finding their way inside. Images: D.R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

Kudzu was first brought to the United States in the late 1800s and planted throughout the Southeastern U.S. until the 1950s. The plant was primarily used to combat erosion, with more than 85 million kudzu seedlings distributed for planting. Talk about planting a bad idea! It wasn’t until 1970 that kudzu was identified as a pest and now, known to be a noxious weed. Today, kudzu is a common sight in the Southeast, covering trees, shrubs and sometimes abandoned houses and cars, and it has become a major threat to forest health. The vines spread quickly, takes over native ecosystems killing native plants, and is difficult to manage.

The kudzu bug, on the other hand, is a relatively new find in North Carolina. Because kudzu is so widespread, the kudzu bug is able to quickly and effectively expand its range into new areas. It was first detected near Atlanta in 2009, and has since been found in most counties in North Carolina. The good news about this new invasive insect is that it loves kudzu. Both species are from Asia and in its native range, kudzu is a favored host plant of the insect. Unfortunately, they’re not just munching on kudzu. The kudzu bug also feeds on many plants in the legume family: soybeans and other beans, wisteria and vetches. As an agricultural pest, the stakes for managing this insect are suddenly much higher.

The kudzu bug has also become a major household pest. This fall, you may notice them congregating on the outsides of white or light-colored homes. If you’re unlucky, they’ll come find your home. And if you’re really unlucky, they might find a way to slip inside. The bugs find small cracks and crevices, such as doors, vents and gaps around windows, to accomplish a home invasion. Not only are the bugs annoying, but they’re smelly house guests. Kudzu bugs stink, and the foul chemical they emit could also cause rashes or blisters on those who handle or crush them.

Best way to protect your home this fall? Act now and seal up any cracks, crevices or gaps that might be used to gain entry. You can also try to find a nearby food source (is there a kudzu patch nearby?) and attempt to control it. No one likes an uninvited house guest, especially when they bring all their smelly friends!

To learn more about the kudzu bug, visit the NCSU Insect Notes on the critter!

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Today’s Topic: Tenth annual Commissioner’s Food Safety Forum takes place Aug. 26

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

Food Safety Forum logoRegistration is open for the 10th annual Commissioner’s Food Safety Forum, scheduled for Aug. 26 at the State Fairgrounds. Commissioner Troxler will host the event from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Expo Center. It is sponsored by Harris Teeter and Publix.

The forum is open to farmers, food businesses, regulators, health professionals and others with an interest in food safety. Admission is free and includes lunch.

This year’s forum will focus on how the federal Food Safety Modernization Act will affect international accountability, international trade and the importation of food products.

Keynote speaker will be Dr. David Acheson, who has worked in food safety for 30 years. He is a former associate commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and he now runs The Acheson Group, a food safety consulting firm. His presentation will focus on the impacts of the food safety law on international trade.

Other speakers include Jeff Hawley, food safety manager with Harris Teeter, and Kim Taylor, meat and seafood director with Delhaize America. In addition, a panel of North Carolina producers will discuss consumer food choices and food safety practices on the farm.

To register for the forum, click here. Registration deadline is Aug. 22.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss this year’s Food Safety Forum.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.

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Versatility, variety help Cleveland County farm stay profitable

Jason Rhodes and Steve Dillon

When it comes to making sure his lime and fertilizer applications are correct, Jason Rhodes, left, listens attentively to Steve Dillon, NCDA&CS regional agronomist.

First-generation farmer Jason Rhodes is not afraid to try something new.

Over the past 15 years, he has grown more than 12 crops under five different production systems at his Rhodesdale Farm in Grover. He currently produces about 650 acres of mixed seasonal produce and row crops.

Rhodes began farming part time in 1999 with an ornamental plant nursery. He went full time in 2002, adding cattle and soybeans to his operation. That same year, he planned ahead and planted five acres of blueberries and an acre of asparagus, crops that take several years before they start producing.

When the economic downturn in 2009 caused him to close the nursery, Rhodes shifted his focus to growing produce for local market. By 2012, he was selling an assortment of tomatoes, peppers (cayenne, jalapeño, habañero), squash, crowder peas, cucumbers, asparagus, garlic, cantaloupes, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and muscadine grapes.

Rhodes says crop diversity is important from a business perspective, even if that philosophy doesn’t always translate into dollars.

“I’ve found that cucumbers are not an economical crop,” he said, “but we grow them to meet the customer demand at our roadside stand.”

‘I like what I do’

Last year, Rhodes converted several greenhouses from his nursery so he and his wife, Shelley, could produce tomatoes year round. This was also his first year growing garlic. In the past two years, Rhodes has added milo and canola to his field crop rotation. He is already talking about wanting to try his hand at popcorn and cotton and maybe even aquaculture trout production.

“When I wake up, farming is what I think about, and when I go to sleep, farming is what I think about,” Rhodes said. “I like what I do and that is priceless.”

Rhodes will tell you frankly that one of the reasons he likes farming is because he does not like to be told what to do. Even so, when it comes to making sure that his lime and fertilizer applications are correct, he listens attentively to Steve Dillon, regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It is not unusual for Rhodes to call Dillon three times a week.

“Steve does the math for me to make sure I’m thinking right (with respect to fertilizer application rates),” Rhodes said.

Dillon said he is happy to double-check Rhodes’ fertilizer calculations. “A small error can mean too much fertilizer and wasted money, or too little fertilizer and reduced crop yield,” Dillon said. “No matter what crop you grow, it is imperative to get soil pH and nutrient levels correct to prevent potential problems. High-value crops like fruits and vegetables require intensive nutrient management. Since fertilizer is applied daily or weekly, is it important to sample the plant tissue to ensure that nutrient applications are on target.

“I have been working with Jason for 12 to 14 years, and he is always coming up with new ideas, which is a great challenge for me,” Dillon said. “It’s exciting to hear his latest plan and then help him carry it out.”

The Field Services Section of the Agronomic Services Division has 13 regional agronomists throughout the state. They are available to visit or consult with growers who need help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. For more information or for the name of the regional agronomist in your area, call Michelle McGinnis at 919-733-2655 or click here.

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