Navy using part of Bladen Lakes State Forest for training

Trees in Bladen Lakes State Forest

The Navy has a three-year agreement with the N.C. Forest Service to conduct training exercises on a portion of Bladen Lakes State Forest.

The N.C. Forest Service has a long history of working with its military partners around the state. That relationship took an additional step forward when the NCFS and the U.S. Navy came to a three-year agreement on using part of Bladen Lakes State Forest for military training exercises.

“I want to thank all those who were involved in the process of bringing this agreement to a successful completion,” said Michael Chesnutt, Bladen Lakes State Forest supervisor. “I am pleased the North Carolina Forest Service is able to work with the military to provide another place in which to train our warriors.”

The Navy is training on about 700 acres of land located at the southernmost edge of the forest, adjacent to the north bank of the Cape Fear River near Singletary Lake. This area is located on the 4,686-acre portion of the forest, between N.C. Highway 53 and the Cape Fear River. The forest contains about 32,800 acres in total.

“The Bladen Lakes State Forest is a vital component to our training continuum. No other location affords us the ability to conduct riverine training in such a realistic, pristine environment,” said Fred Sizemore, assistant director for the Center for Security Forces Learning Site Camp Lejeune. “With limited infrastructure, isolated locations and rugged terrain, Bladen Lakes State Forest is an ideal location for coastal riverine training.”

Military training should not have impact on land, other activities in forest

Citizens concerned that the forest will lose its pristine nature should not worry, as the Navy agreed to leave the area as they found it. The Navy conducts low-impact ground training exercises such as insertion and extraction of ground forces, mock ambushes, patrolling, medical evacuations and mock treatments. Although they use blank munitions during training, pyrotechnics, non-lethal training ammunition and smoke grenades must be deemed safe and approved for use by the NCFS. In other words, the use of these devices must be approved for times when they are not likely to cause a fire.

“We must be able to accomplish our training mission effectively without disrupting the environment,” said Larry McFarland, executive director of the Center for Security Forces. “The U.S. Navy has a strong track record of environmental stewardship and it’s important we continue that tradition. The local users of the forest must be considered and successfully communicated with as we conduct training and carry out this mission.”

The Navy conducts no more than eight nine-day training sessions per year. However, the Navy will not conduct training in Bladen Lakes State Forest April 1-May 20 and Sept. 15-Jan. 1 to allow for turkey and deer hunting seasons.

Chesnutt also would like to assure the forest’s various user groups that the ongoing military operations should in no way adversely affect their activities. “While Bladen Lakes State Forest’s primary function is to demonstrate the benefits of good forest management, we also have a lot of folks who come here for a variety of recreational activities,” he said. “One of our goals as a demonstration forest is to show how you can manage your forest for a variety of goals, including recreation and, in this case, military training.”

Bladen Lakes State Forest has more than 180 miles of trails and paths for use by the public, including horseback riding and some limited camping. These activities all require a special-use permit, which can be obtained for free at the office Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information about Bladen Lakes State Forest, call 910-588-4964 or email


Today’s Topic: Bumper seed crop ensures future trees


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

Oak acorns are planted at the N.C. Forest Service Nursery.

This year was a bumper crop for tree seed, including these overcup oak acorns, being planted at a N.C. Forest Service nursery.

In the afterglow of Thanksgiving, your refrigerator or freezer may be overflowing with leftovers from the feast. But turkey and dressing aren’t the only things that were put into cold storage lately. Seeds from trees across the state have hit the ground in record amounts this fall. And squirrels weren’t the only ones looking for it.  After collecting from the bumper crop, the N.C. Forest Service was able to cold-store tree seeds for use in years to come.

Each year, N.C. Forest Service staff members collect the seed used to grow more than 50 species of tree seedlings for the agency’s nursery program. These native seedlings are then sold to landowners at low cost for a variety of purposes, such as reforestation, wetlands mitigation, aesthetic improvement and wildlife habitat creation.

“While trees make some seed almost every year, a crop of this size only occurs about every four or five years,” says James West, head of the NCFS Nursery and Tree Improvement Program. “Things have to be just right when it comes to rain, temperatures and wind events. If one of those parameters is off, the seed yield is lower.”

This fall has proven to be a bumper crop year for most species across the state, West says. The weather conditions for the last two years have been favorable for trees to produce seed such as acorns, drupes and cones. In some species, seed production can take two years to complete.

This year’s heavy seed crop has enabled the nursery staff to process seeds from many species and prepare them for long-term storage. This will ensure that seedlings will be available to North Carolina landowners in future years when tree seed may not be as plentiful.

Landowners interested in planting trees this winter or spring may order their seedlings by calling 1-888-NCTREES or visiting

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss the crop of tree seed and learn more about the N.C. Forest Service’s nursery program.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.


What’s Happening on the Farm: Tidewater Research Station serves up Irish potato research

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 Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth. 

Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth

Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth

This time of year, Irish, or white, potatoes are likely on the minds of cooks around the state as they prepare for their big holiday meal. Potatoes are also on the mind of research operations manager Jewell Tetterton and his staff at the Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth, but for much different reasons.

The 19 full-time Tidewater employees are busy planting new potato seed stock in two 3,000-square-foot greenhouses.  The 23,000 to 25,000 different plant crosses will fill the greenhouses and become the basis for the 2015 growing season’s Irish potato breed trials, with the hope that a new plant crosses will eventually be released for commercial production, Tetterton said. That process can take anywhere from five to 12 years and involves multiple years of growing a specific plant, detailed data collection and even taste testing to see how the potato stacks up on flavor.

From their greenhouse starts, Tetterton said 18,000 to 20,000 different plant crosses will make it to the field. But then the numbers drop dramatically. “Only 2.5 to 4 percent will go on to the next generation of research,” he said.

While the 2014 potato harvest has long ended, Tetterton said that even though he and other workers may “not be in the field, we’re messing with potatoes near about all year.” That’s because research involving potatoes is pretty labor intensive, whether it involves hand planting all the seed stock, hand planting plants with good prospects in the field or hand harvesting the crop to collect production data.

The Tidewater Research Station was established in 1943 and also includes research projects involving beef and swine, field crops, aquaculture and horticultural crops. The station has more than 1,550 acres, with the bulk in timber, field crops and pasture. It is the only one of the 18 state-operated stations with an Irish potato plant breeding program, which makes sense given the station is in the heart of the state’s potato-growing region. Some of the current potato breeds grown commercially in the state, such as Yukon Golds, Superior, Altantic and Snowdens, were developed through research trials at Tidewater.

While those potatoes have been good producers, researchers continue to develop varieties that are more productive and have greater disease resistance. Improving varieties is one way researchers help farmers increase their bottom line, and also help meet the long-range need to feed a growing world population.

“It’s been about five to seven years since we have had a new release,” Tetterton said. “But there are some good prospects out there right now; two or three that are looking promising, but they have probably another two to five years of research to go.”

Tetterton said most people would probably be surprised to learn just how labor intensive research work is for potatoes. “Every seed piece is dropped by hand and every plant is harvested by hand,” he said. “And we can’t cross-contaminate one plot with the next.”

The station averages planting between 12 and 17 acres of potato trials, with test plots situated every 21 feet, with 3-foot breaks between plots. “It takes us about four weeks to get through hand harvesting all the potatoes,” he said. Each plot has a dedicated tote for harvesting purposes that is clearly labeled to avoid confusion on which plant cross is being harvested.

Once the potatoes are harvested, they are graded, weighed and checked for taste. Literally, potatoes will be cut up into chips, fried and tasted by the staff. Not every potato will be cut up, so around 1,500 pounds of good, No. 1 stock potatoes end up being donated to the local food bank.

Another thing Tetterton said might surprise people is how much of North Carolina’s $36 million potato crop eventually becomes potato chips. He estimates 90 to 95 percent of them are shipped north to become potato chips. The remaining will be sold as fresh potatoes.

Who knew so much is behind those mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving?





News Roundup: Nov. 22-26

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.

  • “State aims to get students involved in agriculture earlier,” WNCT: An effort is underway to get students involved in agriculture at a younger age to ensure the stability of the billion dollar industry in North Carolina. More than 500 Beaufort County students attended an agriculture expo at Northside High School in Pinetown Tuesday to learn about different ways they can get involved. For some students, agriculture has always been something that interested them. “I’ve always known that food didn’t just come off your shelves, and as a senior this year, I’ve seen that a lot of high schoolers don’t exactly know where the food comes from, and it’s important for me to tell them and for me to advocate for them,” said Kaitlyn Tetterton, a senior at Northside. The event also drew top state officials from Raleigh, including Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “We’ve got 9 billion people to feed by the year 2050,” Troxler said. “We’re going to have to have a lot of youth in agriculture and agro business to meet the goals of the food supply.” …
  • “State warns of overcharging at the register,” WNCN: State inspectors are warning consumers to keep a close eye on the prices they pay for items at stores. The Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Standards Division says about 6 percent of the stores they checked statewide have failed inspections ensuring prices charged at the register are accurate.”If you go to the store and buy 50 items, there’s a strong possibility at least one is wrong,” said Measurement Program Manager Jerry Butler. “I guarantee it.” To help curb the problem, state inspectors periodically check price scanners in stores. “It’s about a 9- to 10-percent error rate the first time, and we’ll go back in 30 days and hit them again,” Butler explained. “And that’s about a 6-percent error rate to the stores we return to.” …
  • “For a job with a future, look to agriculture,” Southeast Farm Press: Country crooner Willie Nelson, along with the late, great Waylon Jennings, famously warned mama’s everywhere not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. “Don’t let them pick guitars and drive them old trucks, make them be doctors and lawyers and such,” they sang. But is this sage advice in today’s economy? Most doctors complain that between government regulations and malpractice insurance, it’s all they can do to maintain their country club memberships. And it’s no secret that America is over-lawyered, with almost 1.3 million attorneys, which is more by far than any other country and more as a percentage of the national population than almost all others. A recent report from the National Association for Law Placement states that fewer than half of the people graduating from law school eventually landed jobs in a law firm, and only 65 percent found positions requiring passage of the bar exam. With all due respect to Misters Nelson and Jennings, maybe it’s time to reconsider current prospects. So what’s a person to do who’s looking for a good job with long-term security? According to a report released in October at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, there’s a great need now for young agricultural professionals. …
  • “Luncheon caps Farm-City Week festivities,” Richmond County Daily Journal: Machines made for the fields made their way down Main Street Saturday morning for the 19th annual Farmers’ Day Parade. John Deere, Allis-Chalmers and McCormick Farmall tractors made up the bulk of the parade, interspersed with entries from several local fire departments, church groups and scout troops. Classic cars, modern motorcycles and Shriners also rolled along the route, with riders on horseback bringing up the rear. The parade kicked off Farm-City Week, which also included a hootenanny and tours of the 4-H Museum at Camp Millstone. The celebration of the county’s agricultural community concluded Monday with a luncheon featuring goat barbecue and grilled chicken. …
  • “Farmers Encourage Families to Shop Local This Thanksgiving,” Time Warner Cable News: (Video) With Thanksgiving just days away, shoppers are sweeping store shelves. Local farmers are also encouraging these shoppers to buy local produce and meats. Humble Roots farmer Kyle Stenersen chose Tidal Creek Co-op as the place to shop on Sunday. “This is one of the places in town where a small farmer who doesn’t have tons of acres…and doesn’t belong to a co-op can come and sell their products and they can be bought by the consumer,” he said. Community stores like Tidal Creek Co-op are also urging customers to buy local foods for Thanksgiving, as much of the produce and turkeys are fresh from the farms. …
  • “Got your Goat: For N.C. cheesemakers, it’s just kid stuff,” Columbia News Tribune: The burgeoning local-food movement usually seeks to bring the farm to the table. But the Goat Lady Dairy brings the table to the farm. Several times a month, for most of the year, the North Carolina dairy opens its barn doors to about 50 people who register in advance for a $60-per-person “dining adventure”: a five-course, locally inspired meal showcasing the dairy’s multiple varieties of goat cheese. We signed up partly for the food and partly for the goats, and neither disappointed. The Goat Lady is tucked away in the rolling hills of Climax, N.C., in the west-central part of the state. It can be tough to find: Our car’s GPS unit said, “Turn left” at the same instant the smartphone said, “Turn right.” But eventually we pulled up at its red barn and joined the crowd on the porch for a glass of wine with a side of environmental education. “We do not do this because this is a handy-dandy, simple, easy way to make a living,” dairy owner Steve Tate told our group. Instead, he said, “we discovered that when you change a person’s relationship to food, you change them and the world together.” …
  • “Cooperative Extension celebrates century of agricultural education,” Lexington Dispatch: The organization most known for being the champion of the farmer, Cooperative Extension, is celebrating 100 years of education, research and assistance to farmers and youths of Davidson County. Agriculture remains the leading industry in North Carolina, and Davidson County is still one of the top producers in the state. In other words, no matter how many technical advancements society makes, agriculture is still king and has been for a very long time. Troy Coggins, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Davidson County, said his department basically is an extension of a college classroom. “We used to call it Agricultural Extension, but now the whole program is called Cooperative Extension,” Coggins said. “That change kind of confused some folks, but it really encompasses everything from the 4-H programs, the family consumer sciences and, of course, our agricultural programs. Probably an alternative term that might have been easier to understand would have been university extension because essentially what we are is an extension of North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T University.” …
  • “Precision Agriculture Taking Root With Drones, AgBio Technology,” Xconomy: To catch a glimpse of new technology that could help farmers get more from plants in the soil, look to the sky. Aerial drones might be more commonly associated with military applications today. But the precision an unmanned aerial vehicle shows in a military strike also has applications in farming. A drone can identify a target in the field—a pest, a disease, or a nutrient problem, says Rick DeRose, global expert, technology acquisition for Syngenta Biotechnology. Based on information from that aerial scan, a farmer can determine how to respond. That response will be delivered by a drone. DeRose calls it “precision agriculture.” “We are doing space stuff in agriculture,” DeRose says. “It is the way of the future.” The future of agriculture was the central theme of the North Carolina Agriculture and Biotechnology Summit last week, a conference that drew agribusiness companies, scientists, and farmers to the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. …
  • “Opinion: Best state: Minnesota and North Carolina, for turkeys,” North Reid Wilson is the author of Read In, The Washington Post’s new morning tipsheet on politics. Perhaps it’s fitting that most of the food we will enjoy on Thursday didn’t make its way to our dinner tables from Massachusetts. THE TRUE origins of Thanksgiving are, like America itself, a mix of foreign influences. Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led what may have been the New World’s first Thanksgiving celebration in 1541, 79 years before the Pilgrims sailed to North America. French Huguenots held a Thanksgiving service near what’s now Jacksonville, Fla., in 1564. English colonists in modern-day Maine and Jamestown, Va., also celebrated Thanksgivings before the Pilgrims got here. So perhaps it’s fitting that most of the food we will enjoy on Thursday didn’t make its way to our dinner tables from Massachusetts. …
  • “National Parks Look To Lock Out Wild Ginseng Diggers,” National Public Radio: Digging for wild ginseng pays: It sells for thousands of dollars in overseas markets. But it is illegal to take ginseng from national parks, where authorities are working to thwart poachers. They come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Jim Corbin, a plant protection specialist with North Carolina’s agriculture department, is out to protect wild ginseng root from the poachers. Ginseng is short – about shin height and has little red seeds, like tiny cranberries. Corbin, who spots some growing deep in the park, crouches down and digs his finger into the soil near the root, then pulls a spray can and a little jar of thick yellow powder out of his pocket. The powder is Corbin’s anti-poaching technology. If someone digs up the root he’s marked and tries to sell it, it’ll glow under a black light, revealing that it was poached. Park officials say Corbin’s dye has helped convict 41 ginseng poachers in the last four years. One was Billy Joe Hurley. He pleaded guilty to his fourth poaching conviction earlier this fall and is serving five and a half months in federal prison. …



In the Kitchen with Brian and Lisa: November recipe roundup


WRAL reporter Brian Shrader and our own Lisa Prince feature seasonal recipes in their Got to Be Good Cookin’ segment using ingredients grown and available right here in North Carolina. This month recipes are Thanksgiving favorites submitted by WRAL-TV viewers.  Recipes included a holiday salad, cranberry fluff, a creative take on pumpkin pie, homemade oatmeal cream pies and sweet potato and sausage hash.

The first recipe was provided by Clare Turner of Belmont. Brian said, “It’s the dressing that makes this salad so special.”

Clare’s Holiday Salad


  • 1 pound raw spinach
  • 8 spring onions or 1 small red onion
  • 5 hard boiled eggs (chopped)
  • 8 slices crisp bacon (crumbled)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 fresh mushrooms (sliced)
  • 2 cans Mandarin oranges (drained)


  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1⁄4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon onion juice (grated onion or found in the spice isle)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2⁄3 cup cider vinegar


Mix all the salad ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Whisk together dressing ingredients and toss with the salad ingredients. Leftover dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Next is a tart recipe that is a throwback to the 1970s. “Mary Wehring from Raleigh says her little sister brought this recipe home from Brownies around 1970 and insisted they make it for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Lisa. “It has been a holiday tradition ever since.” If you are watching your carbs, leave out the marshmallows and the sugar.

Cranberry Fluff


  • 1 pack whole cranberries
  • 2 red apples (cut in small pieces)
  • 2 green apples (cut in small pieces)
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 envelope Dream Whip
  • 1⁄2 cup cold milk
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla


Chop cranberries in a food processor until very small but not mushy. Mix together apples and chopped cranberries. Add marshmallows and nuts. Refrigerate. (The original recipe says an hour, but this is something we prepare to this point early in the day and finish when holiday prep allows.) Prepare Dream Whip (adding milk and vanilla and blend with hand mixer) and fold into cranberry mixture. (We have tried Cool Whip, Reddi-Whip and real whipped cream, but for our family it must be Dream Whip.) Add sugar to taste. Refrigerate until serving.

The next recipe is no-bake cream pie that is a twist on the traditional pumpkin pie provided by viewer Craig Partin of Fuquay-Varina. “It taste like a little bit of fall,” says Lisa.

Pumpkin Cream-Turtle Pie


  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 pack 3.4 oz.vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups frozen whipped topping (thawed)
  • 1 cup chopped N.C. pecans (plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 graham cracker pie crust
  • 1 7.25 oz. bottle caramel flavored Magic Shell ice cream topping
  • 2 tablespoon regular caramel ice cream topping


In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, pudding mixes, milk, cinnamon and nutmeg with wire whisk until well blended. Fold in whipped topping and 1 cup pecans. Spoon mixture into pie crust. Pour caramel Magic Shell (entire bottle) over top of pie and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans.
Freeze pie for 1 hour or until firm. Before serving, drizzle regular caramel ice cream topping over top of pie. Store pie in refrigerator.

The next recipe is for homemade oatmeal cream pies by Megan Talley of Fuquay-Varina. Lisa notes that they “have all the flavors of fall and make great gifts.”

Oatmeal Cream Pies


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 whole N.C. farm fresh eggs
  • 1⁄2 cup molasses
  • 1⁄4 cup milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups quick rolling oats

Frosting (for center, as desired) – Megan recommends Pillsbury Easy Frost Vanilla Dream No Fuss Frosting, for ease. We used Pillsbury whipped supreme vanilla.


Cream the butter and sugar; add the eggs, molasses, and milk. Beat well. Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves together. Add to creamed mixture along with the quick rolling oats.
Drop the mixture by heaping teaspoonful’s onto un-greased cookie sheet. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes until brown, but soft. Allow cookies to cool. Frost the bottom of one cookie with vanilla frosting of choice, place a second cookie on top of frosting to create a sandwich … or oatmeal cream pie!

The next recipe is provide by Amy Smith of Raleigh and is an entree that is good for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Sweet Potato and Sausage Hash


  • 1 pound fresh sausage
  • 2 N.C. sweet potatoes (diced)
  • 1 medium red onion (diced)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 4 N.C. eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salsa


Break up your sausage and cook it in a pan over medium-high heat. When the sausage is nearly finished, drain some of the grease and add the sweet potatoes and onion. Add the cumin and coriander and mix well. Continue to cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. When the hash is cooked through transfer to a medium serving bowl. Cover the hash with the extra-sharp cheese and cover the entire dish with foil. Wash out the pan and melt one tablespoon of butter. Crack the eggs into the pan and cook over medium-high heat. When the eggs are done (I prefer mine Sunny side up!), remove foil from serving dish and add eggs. Sprinkle the entire dish with salsa and enjoy!







From the Commissioner: Thanksgiving and agriculture

Commissioner Troxler with his wife and grandkids.

Commissioner Troxler with his wife and grandkids.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and like many of you, I will be enjoying the day with family and friends around a home-cooked meal. This holiday season I am thankful for farmers and what they provide to our state.

As you sit down to your meal, there’s a good chance what you are eating was grown by a farmer right here in North Carolina. Our state was built on agriculture and it remains our top industry with more than 50,000 farms of all shapes and sizes. Agriculture and agribusiness generate $78 billion for our economy and employ 640,000 people. It is something we can all be thankful about.

Nationally, North Carolina ranks first in sweet potatoes, second in hogs and pigs and third in turkeys. We also rank second in Christmas trees and poinsettias. Our state is home to more than 80 different commodities. Since there really isn’t much our farmers can’t grow, it’s very easy to make it a North Carolina Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for the safe, abundant food supply our farmers provide. I encourage you to support farmers this holiday season and look for ways to buy local. You can help by looking for the green and yellow Got to Be NC label where you shop. This label means that this product was grown, raised, caught or made in North Carolina.  Candles, honey, wood products and gift baskets full of N.C. products make great gifts during the holiday season as well. The NCDA&CS online General Store is a great place to start if you are looking for ideas on where to shop local.

As you enjoy this holiday season, I hope you take some time to be thankful for our agricultural community and support our local farms and businesses.

Support North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness by looking for the Got to Be NC label where you shop.

Support North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness by looking for the Got to Be NC label where you shop.



Today’s Topic: National Farm-City Week

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

It’s National Farm-City Week, which began Nov. 21 and continues through Thanksgiving Day.

Farm-City Week helps promote a greater understanding of agriculture and its connection to the foods we enjoy throughout the year. Communities across the state hold events to celebrate and strengthen the relationships between farmers and the public. It’s important for everyone to understand the connection between agriculture, the food we eat and the economic benefits this industry provides to North Carolina.

Thanksgiving is a great time to celebrate with locally grown food, and Commissioner Troxler tells Rhonda that the Got to Be NC program has made it easier to identify N.C.-grown food in grocery stores across the state.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss Farm-City Week and what the Commissioner is thankful for.

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Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.


NC Forest Service officers recognized as 2014 Arson Investigative Team of the Year

Law enforcement officers with the N.C. Forest Service were named the 2014 Investigative Team of the Year by the North Carolina Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators at the N.C./S.C. Arson Conference in Myrtle Beach. The event was attended by more than 360 fire investigators, fire marshals and detectives from both states.

2014 NCIAAI Investigative Team of the Year

Left to right, Amery Wells, law enforcement supervisor, N.C. Forest Service; Capt. David Newton, Scotland County Sheriff’s Office; Michael Hardin Jr., senior assistant district attorney, District 16A; Sam Niemyer, D-3 law enforcement district ranger, N.C. Forest Service; Jamie Laviner, investigator, Scotland County Sheriff’s Office. Not pictured: Kristy Newton, district attorney, District 16A, and Dawn Layton,chief assistant district attorney, District 20A.

The honor was bestowed upon NCFS Law Enforcement Supervisor Amery Wells, Law Enforcement Rockingham District Ranger Sam Niemyer and other members of the team for an investigation that took place between July 2011 and May 2012. During that period, 78 fires were intentionally set in Scotland, Richmond and Hoke counties. The team used a combination of strategies to narrow down the case to a single suspect who would later be charged and convicted on 50 felony counts of setting fires and malicious use of incendiary devices.

Robert Smith, NCFS chief of law enforcement, said the investigation was challenging and unique due to the geographic area that covered portions of three counties, eight fire districts and two prosecutorial districts, among other factors. He pointed out that investigating a series of fires, even if a few are in the same general area, is complicated.

“Effective communications between investigative team members and numerous resources from different counties and fire districts was critical to the success of this investigation,” Smith said.

Smith said developing the working relationships and overall trust between all of those parties was essential. He credited the team with doing an outstanding job to develop and nurture longstanding relationships that transcended jurisdictional lines and using their individual strengths and skills to work extremely well together.

“They used a combination of good old-fashioned investigative skills mixed with technology such as tracking devices and GIS mapping, to put together a thorough case,” he said.

The factor of time and distance repeatedly challenged investigators to develop new strategies for static and mobile surveillance that covered a large geographic area over a lengthy time span. It was, however, a challenge to get the legal authority to use the tracking device. In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in U.S. vs. Jones that required a search warrant for tracking devices. In May 2012, judges were still new to this case, as was the investigative team, making the warrant process more time-consuming than normal. The team collaborated on proper verbiage and content prior to discussing the case with the signing judge to be sure everything was in proper order and to the letter of the law.

The team also had the daunting task of collecting and analyzing a large volume of data, evidence, leads, witness interviews, photographs and other information, which quickly became a huge undertaking to sort and track. There was also the ongoing process of analyzing the data to formulate hypotheses, which was even more challenging and often frustrating for the team.

The suspect turned out to be a former law enforcement officer. As such, he was familiar with investigative tactics, interview techniques and surveillance techniques. It was later determined that he was also using a scanner to monitor radio traffic of emergency response personnel.

“Considering all of the challenges, the investigative team maintained a unified and determined effort to bring successful closure to one of the most complex wildland fire investigation cases in North Carolina history,” Smith said.

The team invested more than 1,000 man hours of time and resources and wrote in excess of 1,000 pages of discovery evidence. Their work led to 52 felony charges for intentionally setting fires and use of malicious incendiary devices, and a $1 million dollar bond set for the suspect, the largest in North Carolina for a wildland fire case. The suspect pleaded guilty in November 2013 to 50 of the 52 felony charges and was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to 60 months of supervised probation to begin in May 2016 at the end of an unrelated federal prison sentence.

“I’m very proud to have played just a small role in this investigation. But even more so, to have witnessed the amount of dedication, professionalism and teamwork these guys demonstrated throughout this entire investigation,” Smith said. “They are all very deserving of this award for 2014.”


News Roundup: Nov. 15-21

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.

  •  “FDA Holds Listening Session on Food Safety Rules,” Time Warner Cable News: North Carolina produce farmers and animal-food manufacturers are learning about updated rules proposed under the Federal Food Safety Modernization Act. The FDA is holding meetings across the country to get industry input. The law goes into full effect in about three years and is said to be the most sweeping reform of US food safety laws in more than 70 years. Signed into law in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act marks a major shift in food safety, changing the federal strategy from responding to contamination to preventing it. …
  • “Dixon: Farm finds a niche in baby ginger, turmeric,” Winston-Salem Journal: One of the best parts about writing this column is discovering new places, new people and new plants. Recently, I discovered Plum Granny Farm in Stokes County — and the unique crops that they cultivate. Owners Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel are best known for garlic. Growing more than 20 varieties has put them on the food map. …
  • “Local TV show features Lejeune mess hall,” DVIDS: Local TV station UNC-TV’s program Flavor, NC is dedicated to showcasing local food producers, their products and restaurants who prepare dishes with those ingredients. Mess Hall 82 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune will be featured in an upcoming episode of Flavor, NC. “The show features a variety of local ingredients from fresh fruits and vegetables to dried goods and meats,” said Paul Friday, director of government and external relations with Marine Corps Installations East. “Not only do we provide wholesome, nutritious food for service members, but we also recognize local food producers.” Flavor, NC starts at the origin of produce, and describes the process the food takes to arrive at its final destination. …
  •  “Tree-mendous Haul For NC Forest Service,” WFAE: An unusual North Carolina Forest Service program has staff compete to collect tree seeds. After a fertile year, the service is touting the results. James West manages a nursery and publishes a most-wanted list—both for the North Carolina Forest Service. The list names types of seeds state and county forest officials might find as they patrol the woods. They bring them back to grow into seedlings in the nursery, West says. “It’s really interesting to watch how much comes in,” says West. …
  • “Keep an eye on gas receipts to find inaccurate pumps,” WRAL: When filling up at the pump, most of us just set it and forget it. And for the most part, people trust the numbers on the pump. A woman who contacted 5 on Your Side was on empty when she filled up, which may have helped her catch a problem with her gas pump. “According to my owner’s manual, I have 13.2 gallons capacity in my car, but the pump went over 16 gallons,” Kathy Potter said. Potter needed gas when she stopped at the WilcoHess on Western Boulevard in October. “When I saw that hit 13 gallons, I got concerned, and then when it kept going I was really, you know, puzzled,” Potter said. “I thought wow, I was really on empty.” Her receipt shows the pump finally cut off at more than 16 gallons. “Over three gallons is a pretty pricey error margin,” Potter said. “That cost me over $10 and if we’re doing that every time we fill up, that’s a lot of money out of my pocket.” Potter said the clerk wasn’t worried about the difference. “She didn’t seem very concerned, she just kind of laughed and shrugged it off,” said Potter. So the Potters called state inspectors, who tested the pump and shut it down. “It’s nothing the store did on purpose, it’s just equipment and it does go bad,” said Jerry Butler with the state Department of Agriculture. Butler said the inspector pumped 20 gallons but was charged for 26.6 gallons. He ended up closing both sides of the pump. …
  • “Tobacco Trust Fund provides $500k for agricultural projects at NC State,” The Technician: The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund provided $500,000 to two agricultural projects based at NC State geared toward helping struggling farmers during what has been a difficult economy for agriculturalists. The organization announced that it will provide about $300,000 to fund NC AgVentures, a new program that will seek to help tobacco farmers update and revamp farms through the use of individual grants. The Tobacco Trust Fund will also give about $200,000 to Developing Future NC Farmers, a program that hopes to encourage college students to develop a career in the agriculture industry. “The money goes directly to the farmers so they can implement new projects on their farm,” said Jacqueline Murphy Miller, the extension assistant of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. There has been a significant decline of tobacco growth in the United States, according to Miller. However, North Carolina remains the number one producer of flue-cured tobacco, the primary ingredient in cigarettes in the country. “The bottom line is we want to keep farmers in business,” said Jeff Jennings, program officer of the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. …
  • “Conference unites women across meat industry supply chain to address common issues,” Indy Week: Bacon is easy. I want to say that loud and clear. Bacon is easy.” That’s Tray Satterfield, meat associate at Skagit Valley Cured Meats in Washington State and she’s speaking about curing pork to 36 women gathered for a three-day conversation about all things meat. Now in its second year, Women Working in the Meat Business is a conference hosted by NC Choices, a program of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. …
  • “Farm-City Week showcases local agriculture,” Richmond County Daily Journal: Culture and agriculture will meet here Saturday as Farm-City Week kicks off, bringing those in the city and those in the country closer together. This year’s theme is “Who’s Your Farmer?” and Susan Kelly of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension office believes it’s a way for those unfamiliar with farming to become a little more educated. “Farm-City is a national movement. City folks and country folks getting together,” said Kelly. “This is a fairly rural county, but a lot of people don’t know about agriculture.” The agriculture agencies in the local N.C. Cooperative Extension office are in charge of this year’s festivities, said Kelly, along with several Richmond County residents. …
  • “NC-inspired menu creates a Tar Heel Thanksgiving,” Charlotte Observer: At least we spared you the possum. There was a time, according to Southern food historian David Shields, when hotels in the Carolinas featured the critter instead of turkey at their Thanksgiving feasts. But when we decided to dig into some of North Carolina’s most beloved cookbooks for a Tar Heel-centric Thanksgiving menu, we decided that turkey, as one of the state’s leading products, really should stay on the table. Same for sweet potatoes. We’re No. 1 in the country in sweet potato production.And there are plenty of other holiday foods that we could find around the state. How about scuppernongs? And cranberries, of course. …
  •  “Raleigh drone company looks to farmers for business,” WRAL:  Most people associate drones with the military. They have played a major role in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A Raleigh company is trying to change that impression. Precision Hawk believes drones can be money-makers. A North Carolina State University farm serves as a test site for Precision Hawk near Bahama. Motors start, propellers spin and, with a gentle toss into the wind, aircraft take flight.”The term drone has such a negative connotation, you see it on the news all the time,” said Tyler Collins, Precision Hawk’s director of business development. …
  • “AdvantageWest gets $1.2 million for ScaleUp WNC,” Asheville Citizen-Times:  With 14,000 gallons produced this year, Noble Cider is not the same company it was two years ago when the market’s big thirst for their small batch of 2,000 gallons caused the barrels to run dry before the next apple season. “That’s when we had our first realization that we needed to make a lot more because we can’t just stop selling. We have to continue to have something to sell in order to still be a business,” said Trevor Baker, co-founder of Noble Cider. …




N.C. Forest Service’s Greg Cox receives 2014 Governor’s Award for Excellence

Cox Accepting Gov Award

Cox Accepting Governor’s Award From NCDA&CS Assistant Commissioner Scott Bissette; Neil Alexander, director of the Office of State Human Resources

Greg Cox, mechanic supervisor with the N.C. Forest Service, was recently awarded a Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Efficiency and Innovation at a ceremony at the N.C. Museum of History. He was nominated for devising a program to save money on the Forest Service’s equipment repairs and maintenance. The Governor’s Awards for Excellence are the highest honor a state employee can receive. Greg was nominated at the state level after he was selected as Employee of the Year at the department level.

“Greg demonstrates a can-do attitude and a spirit of innovation that is admirable, and I’m thrilled to have his work acknowledged by the governor,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “It’s great to have others recognize something I’ve known for many years – that our department has the best employees in state government.”

Cox is responsible for the maintenance and repair of more than 100 pieces of rolling stock across an eight-county district. This equipment ranges from pick-up trucks with slip-on firefighting units to heavy equipment such as bulldozers, forklifts and motor graders. These units must be kept in a state of readiness in order to fulfill the legislative mandate that the N.C. Forest Service protect residents of North Carolina from destructive wildfire. Greg also has direct supervision of three employees, a mechanic, forest fire equipment operator and smoke chaser.

“Greg demonstrates a dedicated work ethic, can-do attitude, and a spirit of innovation on the job,” said Don Watson, district forester out of the N.C. Forest Service’s Rockingham office. “Many of Greg’s ideas or innovations have saved the State of North Carolina tens of thousands of dollars. Greg is an expert in metal fabrication and can often times make the parts that most others are required to purchase.”

According to Watson, Cox has improvised and or invented many pieces of equipment for the district, including rebuilding about 20 heavy duty hitches that have broken. At a cost of more $600 per hitch, the savings add up quickly.  The hitches are used on bulldozers to pull large, heavy, fire plows and are about 2 inches around and 6 inches long.

Cox’s skill is not limited to repairing hitches. IIn fact, he developed and built two new fire plows that allow for more accurate control of the fire plow depth. This allows the plows to be used in lighter, sandier soils, while still having the capability to operate in the parts of the state where a heavier, deeper fire line is required to get through the thick root mats in the organic soils.

Since this type of fabrication work requires specialized tools, in addition to specialized skills, Cox acquired two pieces of large equipment from the a community college that no longer needed them. The fabrication equipment was valued at between $10,000 and $15,000.

Cox also fabricated shrouds for some of the older shop tools that satisfies the safety requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which saved the Forest Service thousands of dollars that would have been required to update their shop tools.

In addition to his fabrication skills, Cox has made other money-saving recommendations. This includes researching and recommending that the district invest in a transmission flusher to help maintain the districts’ initial attack vehicles. Current maintenance standards require the transmissions to be serviced every 30,000 miles, which usually takes place every other year at a cost of $165, which equates to a savings of over $3,000 a year.

Cox’s dedication extends outside of the garage as well. As one of only two mechanics in the district on call every day, he is often called on after hours for repairs needed on firefighting equipment in the field, where conditions are usually anything but ideal. On a recent Sunday morning, Cox was called at 2 a.m. to help get a tractor that was stuck while fighting a fire. He responded promptly to the fire scene and was instrumental in getting the tractor back to work.

“Greg is the go-to-guy for repair advice, not only in the district but across the state,” Watson said. “He is often called by other mechanics to give his thoughts on a situation with a piece of equipment from another district.”

During a busy fire season in 2011, Cox was dispatched outside of his district seven times and was out of town and away from his family for a total of 93 days that year. For many of these dispatches Cox was requested by name because others across the state also recognize the great work that Greg does.

“Greg is one of the most dedicated people to his job that I have been around,” Watson added. “One of Greg’s best characteristics is that he demonstrates that nature with a positive attitude. He genuinely enjoys his job and likes to have fun doing it.”