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, Missouriplants.com, Bugwood.org (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, Missouriplants.com, Bugwood.org (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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.


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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.

 

 

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News Roundup: March 29-April 4

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.

  • “Lowes Foods steps up efforts to buy food directly from local farmers,” Greensboro News & Record: Brenda Sutton’s farm in Rockingham County is so small she calls herself a “hobby farmer.” But farming is keeping her busy these days, thanks to Lowes Foods. Her jams, jellies and shiitake mushrooms can be found on the shelves of three Piedmont Triad Lowes Foods stores as one of a number of small, local farmers and vendors from whom Lowes buys its produce and a variety of other products. …
  • “Ag commissioner launches program to save hemlocks,” Hendersonville Lightning: Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced the allocation of seed funding for a new effort to restore North Carolina’s hemlock trees to long-term health. Hemlocks across Western North Carolina are being decimated by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that sucks the sap of young twigs, which leads to tree death. …
  • “First GAP-certified high school agriculture program in the state lets North Stokes students grow food for school system,” The Stokes News: The future of agriculture is growing at North Stokes High School. Literally. “More and more of the agriculture marketplace is starting to require GAP certification,” said Heather Barnes, a coordinator with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ N.C. Farm to School Program. She said that major retailers and grocery stores, as well as many chain restaurants and any North Carolina school system, will not buy produce that does not have GAP, Good Agricultural Practices, certification. “The students at North Stokes will now know what it takes to market in today’s market and that is not something you see in a lot of classrooms.” Those students, under the leadership of agriculture instructor Ben Hall, are the first in the state, and maybe the nation, to be learning in a GAP certified school program. …
  • “April is for beer lovers in N.C.,” Winston-Salem Journal: As N.C. Beer Month begins, North Carolina has 100 craft breweries and brewpubs. That number has more than doubled — from 43 — in the last four years. A craft brewery is defined as a small brewery that makes 6 million barrels of beer or less in a year. The largest U.S. craft brewer, Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams, produced about 2.5 million barrels in 2011. In comparison, Anheuser-Busch makes about 125 million barrels. But most craft brewers are much smaller than Boston Beer, often producing less than 10,000 barrels, and sometimes only a few hundred. Typically, they are independently owned businesses devoted to creating distinctive, innovative beers. North Carolina now ranks 10th in the country in the number of such breweries, and, as of 2012, it ranked 19th in beer production, at 159,033 barrels. Craft brewing is an $800 million industry in the state, accounting for about 10,000 jobs. …
  • “China Temporarily Restricts U.S. Pig Imports, Export Group Says,” Bloomberg Businessweek: China, the world’s largest pork consumer, has put “temporary restrictions” on imports of U.S. pigs to prevent a swine disease from spreading to its herds, according to the Livestock Exporters Association of the USA. China isn’t issuing more import permits for U.S. pigs until the countries agree on testing protocol for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, said Tony Clayton, president of the group. China can resume importing “fairly quickly” as long as “the U.S. agrees to some kind of testing protocol,” Clayton said. …
  • “Vance County farmers market a long time coming,” Henderson Daily Dispatch:  Community leaders arrived at the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday offering applause, plaques and congratulations to Pete Burgess, the advisory board member who led the charge for the new facility, and everyone involved in the completion of the Vance County Regional Farmers Market. “It’s really amazing the level of support we received from the community,” said Paul McKenzie, Vance County Cooperative Extension agent. His organization, which remains a driving force behind the operations of the facility, hosted the ceremony. More than 100 people filled the farmers market to witness the facility’s release to the public. Many were optimistic about what it could mean for the region’s economy. “Vance ranks 88 out of 100 counties in production of fruits and vegetables,” said Dewitt Hardee, director of the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Trust Fund, which provided more than $100,000 for the market. “I believe that this facility could put us in the top 50 before long.” …
  • “Could U.S. tobacco farmers produce nicotine for growing e-cig market?” Southeast Farm Press: It is believed that the nicotine for electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, comes from China, India and maybe Eastern Europe. “Why can’t American growers produce it here?” said Rod Kuegel, a burley and dark tobacco grower from Owensboro, KY. E-cigs are battery-powered devices that vaporize liquid nicotine solutions to simulate the experience of a conventional cigarette without the smoke. Kuegel said meetings and negotiations are going on this spring to see if this market could be developed, and he is sure that an experimental batch of liquid nicotine will be produced somewhere in the burley belt this year. …
  •  ”NC Strawberries about Two weeks Late,” Southern Farm Network: We’ve all heard the saying … “I want ice cream,” but if you’ve lived in North Carolina any length of time, you’re ready to put winter away and see some North Carolina grown strawberries. NCDA regional agronomist Don Nicholson: “We have had a pretty cold winter and strawberries are about ten days to two weeks behind what they normally are. …
  • “N.C. State experts to OK Dan River water for farms,” Greensboro News & Record: Soil scientists with N.C. State expect to report soon that farmers in Rockingham and Caswell counties can safely use water from the Dan River. It’s almost planting season for the dozen or so farmers who raise cattle and plant corn, soybeans and tobacco on lowland fields along the bends in the river. Water, wind, cold and heat are always a worry for farmers. On Feb. 2, the farmers got another headache when the river ran gray. …
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Flavor, NC: Bakers’ Peanuts

Flavor NC logoTwice a month we highlight local restaurants, farms and farmers markets featured on episodes of UNC-TV’s “Flavor, NC.” This week, we review the third episode of Season 3, in which host Lisa Prince highlights peanuts from Bakers’  Southern Tradition Peanuts in Bertie County and peanut recipes from Herons Restaurant at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary.

In 2012, North Carolina’s 5,000 peanut farmers produced 292 million pounds of peanuts, ranking fourth in the nation in peanut production. In this episode of Flavor, NC, Lisa visits Bakers’ Peanuts in Bertie County, calling it “practically peanut paradise.” The Baker family plants about 450 acres of peanuts each year. Their peanut products include blister-fried, chocolate-covered, Cajun-seasoned, peanut brittle and more. In the episode, Danielle Baker explains the difference between blanched, split and red-skinned peanuts and long-time employee Susan Lozaga teaches Lisa how peanut brittle is made.

Then Lisa heads to the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary where chefs Scott Crawford and Daniel Benjamin show her some creative recipes using peanuts, including boiled peanut hummus, fingerling potato salad and Whatchamacallit in a glass. Following is the recipe for boiled peanut hummus.

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds raw peanuts in the shell
  • 1 ¼ cups Kosher Salt
  • 1 ½ gallons water
  • ½ cup smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup peanut oil

Directions:

In a large stock pot bring peanuts, water, paprika and cayenne pepper to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 2 to 2 ½ hours.

Remove from heat and strain, reserve 1 cup of the liquid. Cool peanuts until they can be handled. Remove boiled peanuts from the shell (don’t eat too many while you’re peeling).

In a food processor, puree peanuts with cider vinegar and peanut oil adding a small amount of liquid at a time, until hummus is desired consistency and creaminess. Spread on flat bread, cracker or toasted baguette.

Watch the episode or visit Flavornc.com for the rest of the recipes.

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April: 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 Horticultural Crops Research Station in Castle Hayne in New Hanover County.

The weather has been a hot topic of discussion this winter. Snow, sleet, freezing rain mixed with days of unseasonably high temperatures have had people reaching for their coats one day and leaving them home a day or two later.

Suffice it to say, a good many people in North Carolina are ready for spring. That is probably especially true for strawberry and blueberry growers whose crops are particularly susceptible to spring frosts. The 110-acre Horticultural Crops Research Station counts blueberry and strawberry research among its work. In fact, it has one of the top blueberry breeding programs in the country.

Like many berry growers, the weather has been on the minds of station staff recently as temperatures have dipped near freezing — a significant problem for blooms.

“We have frost-protected the strawberries twice already, and we are watching temperatures closely in case we have to do something with the blueberries, too,” said John Garner, interim research operations manager at the station.

The strawberries are not bearing fruit yet, but the frost protection is for the blooms that will lead to berries. It is a critical time for the strawberries, Garner said. Blueberries are a little farther behind in terms of bloom production when misting the plants will be necessary in extremely cold conditions. But Garner knows warmer temps will soon trigger production.

Whenever temperatures are predicted to be at, near or below freezing, the station’s staff gets busy preparing to work through the night, much like the roads crews that spread salt, sand or brine on the roads to keep them passable.

When temperatures in the fields reach 37 degrees, station workers are notified. After donning rain suits and boots, the crew readies to turn on the water and begin spraying at 34 degrees, Garner said. But the work doesn’t stop when the sprinklers begin misting the plants. Once the water is turned on, staff will ride around the fields looking for sprinklers not working or other signs of problems.

Frost ProtectionCastle Hayne

Sprinklers mist water over blueberry and strawberry plants to protect them against frost.

“It would be nice if the sprinklers and pipes would work right all night long, but the sprinklers can get clogged or you can get trash in the line and they will stop working,” Garner said. “If they are not spraying, they’re not doing their job.”

Working to repair clogged sprinklers or irrigation lines in freezing temperatures and with water flying around is the reason staff members need the rain suits.

When forecasters are calling for freezing temperatures, this same scene is playing out in individual fields across the state. Some growers will use row covers to help protect strawberry plants to certain temperatures, but spraying could be necessary depending on the temperatures and wind chill, Garner said.

“In a perfect world, I hope we don’t get any more frost, but we know it’s not a perfect world,” Garner said.

Depending on the weather, strawberry season runs mid-April through June, and blueberry season follows mid-May through July.

The Horticultural Crops Research Station was established in 1947 and conducts research on muscadine grapes, vegetables and ornamental plants in addition to its blueberry and strawberry work. For more than 50 years, the station has been collecting weather data around the clock for the National Weather Service and the N.C. State Climate Office. The station has five employees.

 

 

 

 

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Mailbag: Help! Moles are tearing up my yard.

The star-nosed mole is listed as a special concern species in North Carolina. It is against state law to sell pesticides targeting moles.

Every day, we receive emails through our website from people who have questions related to agriculture or services provided by our department. Answering emails is part of our efforts to provide the best customer service to North Carolina residents. The following question was answered by Jim Burnette, director of the Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division.

You can submit your own question about agriculture or NCDA&CS services at this link: www.ncagr.gov/htm/contactus.htm

Comments:

I am in dire need of advice. Our almost 2-acre lot was invaded by moles last spring/summer. Our yard now looks like a muddy tunneled mess and my four kids are desperate to get out and play. What is the best way to eradicate the moles and gain our yard back?

Answer:

Believe me we understand your frustration with mole damage to your yard. Unfortunately, moles are protected under wildlife laws in North Carolina. That means that the N.C. Pesticide Board cannot register any pesticides labeled to kill moles. Companies and individuals using a pesticide to treat for moles can be fined up to $2,000 by the N.C. Pesticide Board. There are a number of options, including trapping and reducing the food sources.

Homeowners often confuse moles and voles. Moles are carnivores and eat grubs and insects. Voles are rodents and will gnaw on trees and eat bulbs, stems and grass. There are vole treatments registered in the state. The baits used to treat voles are very similar to those used to treat for mice. Because moles and voles have different food sources and eating habits, vole treatments do not kill moles and cannot be legally used against moles in North Carolina.

An effective way to reduce the number of moles in your yard is to treat for grubs. There are too many products to mention that are registered in North Carolina to control grubs. Many are readily available at any hardware or large format retailers such as Lowe's and Home Depot.

The following websites are great resources for telling the difference and treating for moles and voles:

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Today’s Topic: NCDA&CS provides funding for Hemlock Restoration Initiative

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

Hemlock trees across Western North Carolina are being devastated by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that sucks the sap of young twigs, which leads to tree death. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is putting a good amount of money into efforts to fight this pest.

The department will use $100,000 from the state’s legal settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority to start the Hemlock Restoration Initiative.

Hemlocks are important as habitat for nesting songbirds; they provide shade that cools mountain waters where trout live; and they also help benefit plant nurseries, landscapers, homeowners and tourism.

The goal is to ensure that, by 2025, Eastern and Carolina hemlocks in North Carolina can resist the adelgid and survive to maturity.

Many people, groups and agencies already are working on promising approaches to return hemlocks to long-term health. This research includes the search for naturally resistant trees, testing of predator beetles that eat adelgids, and efforts to bring in resistance from similar tree species. The focus will be on speeding up the most promising ideas, not reinventing the wheel.

The department has selected WNC Communities, an Asheville-based nonprofit, as its primary partner for the project. WNC Communities can bring together the right mix of researchers, funding organizations and others to make sure we use the best efforts to return hemlocks to long-term health.

The department also wants to work with colleagues in other states to bring more resources to the table. Hemlocks can be found in 25 states, and state boundaries are meaningless to the adelgid. By working across state lines, the effort can bring together the best people and resources to solve this problem.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss the Hemlock Restoration Initiative.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.

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