July: 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 Mountain Research Station in Laurel Springs.

Tree Work #1

Alex Addison trims the research station’s Fraser fir crop.

The Christmas season may be several months away, but in Ashe County, known as the Christmas tree capital of the world, it’s growing season and Christmas tree farmers are busy. The Upper Mountain Research Station in Laurel Springs has about 15 acres of Christmas trees. These trees are used in research including ground cover studies, needle retention rates, shearing practices, pest management and fertilization techniques.

“Christmas trees are a year-round crop,” said Tracy Taylor, interim superintendent. “In the dead of winter after harvest it’s a little slower, but spring through the growing season is busy managing weeds and insects. Just like any other crop, it’s a full-time job during growing season.”

Trees are sheared annually in the spring, and during July research station staff are spraying for weeds, keeping the grass mowed between the trees and other maintenance needed on the fields of trees at the station.

Tree work #3

Research station employee Bill Fairchild walks through a stand of young Fraser firs.

Most of the trees at the station are about 5 to 12 years old. Christmas trees start their life in a seed bed, where they grow for about two to three years, then they are transferred to a line bed for another year or so. The Christmas trees that dot the landscape at the station are already around 5 or 6 years old when planted.

The station also maintains a seed orchard for Fraser firs. A seed orchard is a managed area of trees that are maintained for their genetics and used to create new trees or to re-establish a forest. At the station, the trees are grafted with specific genetics and seeds cans be harvested with these known genetics.

In addition to the fertilizer, weed control and pest management studies, several post-harvest studies are performed on the trees. These studies include best harvesting time, needle retention rates and flammability studies. One study is being done of a different variety of tree, the Turkish fir, to study its disease resistance and tolerance to North Carolina’s climate. Many of the results of the research being done at the station is presented to growers at the annual N.C. Christmas Tree Association meeting. The good news for consumers is that many of these studies will lead to hardier trees for the Christmas season.

Happy Cows #6

Cows graze at the research station.

Christmas trees are not the only crop keeping staff busy at the station this month. The Upper Mountain Research Station is just one of two stations in the state that grows burley tobacco for research. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries also are grown at the station as part of the effort to study ways to extend the availability of fresh North Carolina berries. And, the station is the only seed orchard for the Carolina Hemlock in the United States.

During the hot summer months, beef cattle from the Upper Piedmont Research Station in Reidsville are relocated here to spend the summer. In July, there are about 150 beef cattle at the station. Just like kids at summer camp, the cattle enjoy the cooler temperatures  and graze on the abundant cool season grasses. “Other stations will use their fields to grow hay and other silage during the summer months,” said Taylor. “Sending the cattle here allows them to get their work done in the fields. It sounds like they are coming up here for summer camp, but there is really a lot more behind it.”

Recently, North Carolina changed its approach to beef cattle and has moved toward creating a single statewide beef research herd. This will help remove variability in research and increase the study size for research. Another advantage to the cattle spending the summers in cooler mountain air is that they stay reproductive in the heat of the summer.

To help support the beef cattle research, the station is in the middle of renovating one of its buildings into an indoor livestock facility for working cattle. This would include space for vaccinating, de-worming, weighing and more. Also underway is a project to replace fencing at the station, including 50 acres of pasture land, and provide well water instead of creek water for the cattle to drink.

Whether you think of work at the Upper Mountain Research Station this month as Christmas in July, or cows gone camping, one things for sure: It’s a busy time at this farm.





Today’s Topic: Tobacco growers approve assessment program

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

Flue-cured tobacco growers in North Carolina recently approved an assessment to support the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina’s efforts to promote the interests of its farmers. The assessment was approved on 88 percent of ballots in a mail-in referendum. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

Growers approved an assessment of up to 15 cents per hundred pounds of flue-cured tobacco sold in North Carolina. But initially, the association will collect only 10 cents per hundred pounds. The assessment will begin this year and will be collected when farmers sell their tobacco. Tobacco buyers will submit collected funds to the NCDA&CS for distribution to the association.

Until now, tobacco was one of the few commodities in the state without a checkoff program to support advocacy work. Last year, the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing the Tobacco Growers Association to conduct the referendum.

This assessment joins existing checkoff programs that support tobacco research and export promotion.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss the new tobacco checkoff program.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.


Eight N.C. specialty food companies compete in national contest

We all know that when you want the best that’s Grown, Raised, Caught or Madeit’s Got To Be NC! Now let’s let the rest of the nation know. Eight North Carolina food companies are competing in the national Specialty Food Association’s second annual My Story My Ad contest. And they need our help to win. Each contestant has shared their story and why they should win. The top 10 entries will be selected by the number of votes received on the contest’s website, and then a panel of judges will narrow down a winner, based on originality, creativity and relevance to brand. A People’s Choice winner will also be selected from the top 10 entries based on votes through contest’s website.

The grand prize winner will receive an advertising campaign valued at $15,000. Campaign will include concept, design, copywriting, professional photo shoot, artwork production and placement in all Specialty Food Media products. The people’s choice winner will receive an iPad (valued at $500).

Your vote helps support local businesses, and shows our pride in the products that are Made in North Carolina. So take a look at the entries below and pick a favorite. You can vote once a day through midnight on July 20. Click on photos below to read their stories and be sure to vote!

Big Boss Baking

Big Boss Baking, High Point

Good Rub

Good Rub Seasoning, Morrisville

Millchap Sweet Potato Company

Millchap Sweet Potato Company, Charlotte

Miss Jenny's Pickles

Miss Jenny’s Pickles, Kernersville

Nello's Tomato Sauce

Nello’s Tomato Sauce, Raleigh

Owem G. Willikers' Chocolaty Chile Elixirs

Owem G. Willikers’ Chocolaty Chile Elixirs


Slawsa, Cramerton


Bumbalooza, Cornelius



Raised in NC: Harris-Robinette Beef

gtbGRCM12 5x16metalsignIn celebration of Got to Be N.C. month we are featuring local farms and businesses and their products that are Grown. Raised. Caught. Made. here. This week we focus on Raised and highlight Harris-Robinette Beef in Edgecombe County.

Raised represents our state’s thriving livestock industry. Livestock, dairy and poultry represented almost 63 percent of the $11.7 billion in farm cash receipts in 2012.

There are about 750 farmers registered as meat and poultry handlers in North Carolina. These farmers sell their products at farmers markets, restaurants and direct to consumers. All meat and poultry handlers must be registered and inspected by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Meat and Poultry Inspection Division. This segment of the industry has seen explosive growth over the last few years, with an additional two or three farmers seeking registration weekly.

Many of these meat handlers are smaller operations, selling to a few neighbors or at a local farmers market. Some, like Harris-Robinette Beef in Pinetops, have a broader consumer base and have been around a little longer. Owner Patrick Robinette raises Senepol Cross cows and has been selling since 2000. “Our main market is restaurants,” he said. “We had a chef ask us if we would sell directly to his restaurant, then a friend of his who owned another restaurant was interested, too, and sales just snowballed from there. We are in about 31 restaurants on a steady basis, and an additional 16 regularly.” A little more than a year ago he also obtained a slaughter facility, Micro Summit Processors, which allows him to control all aspects of production and provide services for other meat handlers. Robinette remodeled the facility for beef, lamb and goat slaughter.

Patrick Robinette and his family (Larry Harris, Dianne Harris, Amy Robinette, Caden Robinette, McKayla Robinette, Patrick Robinette)

Patrick Robinette (left) and family

Robinette sees market access becoming easier as consumer attitudes toward buying local become more mainstream. “Millennials are controlling the food purchasing and they want to know the story,” Robinette said. “They are looking for a food experience and want their plate to be a work of art.” For a limited time, Robinette offered his beef at the Carlie C’s IGA in Raleigh, and sees that as the likely next step. “Local grocery stores like Lowes Food are probably the next step for offering locally grown meat products,” he said. “It’s not quite widespread there yet, but it is coming.”

“My advice for farmers just starting out in selling their own products would be to know your product, know your production and tell your story,” Robinette said. “Customers want to know the story.”

Robinette has also benefited from his relationship with staff in the NCDA&CS Marketing Division. “The marketing specialists have connections and have been helpful in getting into several restaurants,” he said. In 2012, the department began the Savor NC on the Menu program as part of the Got to Be NC marketing initiative. This program recognizes restaurants, along with chefs and distribution partners, that support sourcing, purchasing, preparing and promoting N.C. products and ingredients. Department staff help farmers such as Robinette get his products into restaurants and helps promote restaurants that support local farmers. “They are awesome in connecting and networking,” Robinette said. “The staff is forward thinking and that’s a real benefit.”

Today is the kick-off of the Savor NC “Dig into Local” Restaurant Week. Diners in eight Piedmont counties can enjoy special, locally sourced menu items at 42 participating restaurants through July 23.

For more information about Savor NC and a list of participating restaurants, visit www.gottobenc.com. Information about Harris-Robinette Beef can be found online at www.harrisrobinette.com.

Next week: Made in North Carolina, featuring a Chatham County specialty foods producer.





News Roundup: July 4-11

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.

  • “Hurricane Arthur Damaged Hyde County Corn Crops,” WUNC: The path that Hurricane Arthur took last week hit an area of the state where a lot of corn is grown. And several farmers will be affected. Leoneda Inge reports on corn damage in Hyde County caused by Hurricane Arthur. State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and staff traveled by Forest Service plane to see the crop damage first hand. …
  • “Pig virus devastates production,” Fayetteville Observer: The way Amanda Hatcher sees it, the deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea virus “is still a work in progress.” Hatcher is a livestock agent from Duplin County, which along with Sampson County, rank first and second in hog production in North Carolina. “This is not just an economic impact. It’s something terrible. Something difficult,” Hatcher said. “It’s like a problem, and you have to find a solution.” The virus has killed an estimated 8 million pigs nationwide, mostly pre-weaned piglets, over the past 14 months, according to the National Pork Producers Council. …
  • “Many questions surround stevia production in North Carolina,” Southeast Farm Press: Stevia is so new to North Carolina that researchers and farmers say there are far more questions than answers on producing the crop, but because of an established market and growing demand, they are committed to expanding acreage in the Tar Heel State. Stevia uses similar production practices as tobacco, which makes it as a good joint crop with tobacco in North Carolina. However, David Shew, professor of plant pathology at North Carolina State University, said farmers must do their homework. …
  • “Keeping gas stations compliant,” WNCT: It’s a routine we’re all too familiar with, filling up at the pump and we all want to make sure we’re getting what we pay for. John Gurkin is an area supervisor for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Standards Division. He and his team of inspectors make sure you’re not getting cheated. …
  • “NC funds 6 cellulosic biofuel, bioenergy research projects,” Ethanol Producer: North Carolina recently awarded six projects a total of $500,000 through the state’s Bioenergy Research Initiative, which is a program of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Special consideration is given to projects that focus on field and forest crop production for cellulosic ethanol feedstocks. “We are excited to have the opportunity to explore bioenergy potential through these grants for North Carolina’s agricultural and forestry industries,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, in a press release. …
  • “N.C. beekeepers meet here: Importance of sharing information emphasized,” Wilkes Journal-Patriot: Illustrating that there is no “perfect way” to raise honeybees, Dr. David Tarpy, state apiculturist, quipped in an interview Tuesday that asking five beekeepers the same question can result in 10 different answers. Amid challenging times and new questions for people with honeybees, said Tarpy, North Carolina still leads the nation in beekeepers per capita partly because of the willingness of the state’s beekeepers to work together and share what they know. He said this strength of the community of beekeepers and growth of apiculture in the state is reflected in the N.C. State Beekeepers Association (NCSBA), which has grown from a membership of about 1,200 when Tarpy started teaching at North Carolina State University 11 years ago to over 4,000 now. …
  • “US (SC): Using science to grow better strawberries,” Fresh Plaza: “North Carolina is able to grow strawberries because of all the science and technology that is devoted to the crop,” said Debby Wechsler, executive secretary of the North Carolina Strawberry Association. “It’s really what is known as intense management. It takes a lot of care. It’s not like you just throw them out and let them grow.” A good example of that intense management can be seen on the Waller Family Farm in Durham, NC. Mark Waller farms 40 acres of strawberries on what used to be a tobacco farm. Customers can pick their own strawberries or visit the market he runs during the strawberry season, which lasts anywhere from April through June. …
  • “Dollar General in Eden fined for price-scanning errors,” Greensboro News & Record: A Dollar General store in Eden has been fined for a high rate of price-scanning errors, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The store, located at 519 Morgan Road, paid $600 in civil penalties. An initial inspection found an error rate of 6 percent, according to the department’s Standards Division. A second inspection in April revealed an error rate of 2.67 percent. …
  • “Taxes on e-cigarettes benefit Big Tobacco, Big Government,” Charlotte Observer: From Stewart Dompe, an adjunct professor of economics at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, and Adam C. Smith, an assistant professor of economics and director of the Center for Free Market Studies at Johnson & Wales University: North Carolina recently levied a five-cent tax on each milliliter of nicotine liquid used by electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes are a new technology that allow smokers to inhale their fix via a cloud of water vapor, flavor and nicotine, and are widely viewed as an aid for nicotine addicts to kick the habit. …
  • “Business, ag groups call for immigration reform,” Asheville Citizen-Times News: A group of business, manufacturing and agriculture leaders, including a nursery owner from Western North Carolina, is pushing for Congress to take up immigration reform this year. “The issue of immigration reform cannot wait any longer,” said Burt Lemkes, a co-owner at Van Wingerden International, a large greenhouse operation in Mills River. “Our businesses are hurting, and our employees and employers are scared.” Lemkes spoke during a conference call hosted Wednesday by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of more than 500 Republican, Democratic and independent mayors, as well as business leaders who support immigration reform as a way of creating jobs for Americans today. …
  • “Fantastic Peanut Season Underway,” Southern Farm Network: It’s hard to remember a better year for growing peanuts than this one says Bob Sutter, CEO of the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association: “Its been good this year. Most everyone has plenty of water and for the most part the entire crop looks good.” As to USDA’s planted acres report last month, Sutter says the report showed more peanut acres in the Tar Heel State: “We went up to about 90,000; a 10,000 acre increase.” …

Got to Be NC Competition Dining: Chef Dean Thompson

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 Dean Thompson of Flights in Raleigh.  Thompson was the 2013 Fire in the Triangle Champion.

The Got to Be N.C. Competition Dining Series faces off two local chefs in a single-elimination, blind-dinner format. The chef’s menu is created around 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. The competition is held in Asheville, Blowing Rock, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington.
Thompson went up against Chef Joseph Yarnell of Cantina 18 in the opening battle of Fire in the Triangle on June 23. The secret ingredients were sourdough and whole wheat breads and white chocolate baguettes from La Farm Bakery in Cary and Kolsch-style beer from White Street Brewing in Wake Forest. Thompson will compete in the sold out July 14 battle against Chef John Childers of Herons at the Umstead in Cary. Tickets are still available for a few remaining Fire in the Triangle events in Raleigh. Tickets for Fire in the City in Charlotte are also available.

Following is Thompson’s recipe for Kolsh Hollandaise, which was part of the highest scoring dish of the battle – White Street Kolsh-Marinated Venison, Kolsh-Braised Mushrooms, Savory Lobster Bread Pudding and Kolsh Hollandaise.

Kolsch Hollandaise

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 cups clarified butter
  • A dash of truffle oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire
  • A dash of Texas Pete
  • 1 cup White Street Brewery Kolsch

1. Whisk eggs in a figure-eight-style movement, over double boiler. Make sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl. The figure-eight technique will help keep the hollandaise fluffy. You will need to occasionally scrape the sides of the bowl to prevent the egg from scrambling. You are looking for the egg to lighten in color to a pale yellow. If overcooked you will see little pieces of scrambled yolk, start over. Once you achieve the proper color remove from the heat and place on a wet towel or a pot with a wet towel to hold the bowl in place.
2. Now take clarified butter that is about 140 degrees, it needs to be hot. You are going to slowly ladle the butter into the egg while figure eight-ing your whisk at a fairly rapid pace. When the mixture starts to get thick like mayonnaise add a teaspoon of the beer. Continue to add all of the butter with occasional beer in between to keep the consistency the preferred fluffy and pourable, but not runny. Remember you can always add more liquid but you can’t take it out. You may or may not use all of the beer. The trick is to get a consistency that is a little thicker than desired finish product.
3. When the hollandaise is just a little thicker than you want, start to add truffle oil, salt, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Texas Pete, one ingredient at a time, while still whisking at a somewhat rapid pace. This should finish it off, and it will be ready to serve immediately. Hollandaise is a weak emulsion and cannot be held hot or even all that warm. Try and make it as close to service as possible to eliminate the possibility for a broken sauce.



Got to Be NC is taking to the airwaves

A new commercial will start airing across the state today featuring North Carolina agricultural products. The commercial was produced by the NCDA&CS Marketing Division and timed to air during Got to Be NC Month. The commercial features the division’s newest marketing slogan, Grown. Raised. Caught. Made.

The commercial narrative goes like this:

In North Carolina, we get up before the sun rises and stay up into the wee hours of the night.

We believe in working hard. And playing harder.

Behind every meal, there is a farmer.

And behind every farmer, there’s Got to Be NC, the official state identity program for North Carolina agricultural products.

Look for the Got to Be NC logo wherever you shop or eat and you’ll know you’re getting a quality product grown, raised, caught or made in North Carolina.

 Watch the commercial and let us know what you think. And don’t forget to support your local farmers by purchasing products that are grown, raised, caught or made right here. Because if you want the best, it’s Got to Be NC!


Take a trip to a farmers market for Got to Be NC Agriculture Month

July has been declared Got to Be NC Agriculture Month in North Carolina. To celebrate, why not take a trip to one of the four state-operated farmers markets in Asheville, Charlotte, Colfax or Raleigh? There is plenty of fresh produce available, as well as meats and cheeses, wines and specialty products made in North Carolina. In addition, the farmers markets are hosting these special events this month:

Celebrate Watermelon Day at all four of the state-operated farmers markets this July.

Celebrate Watermelon Day at all four of the state-operated farmers markets this July.

Peach Day, State Farmers Market, Raleigh
Free peach ice cream and a peach dessert contest are part of the lineup of activities at the State Farmers Market for Peach Day July 10, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Blackberry and Blueberry Day, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, Colfax
This event has become very popular in the Triad with free samples of N.C. berries and plenty available for purchase. Stop by from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 11 to for a “berry” special event.

Watermelon Day, Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, Charlotte
The N.C. Watermelon Queen will be on hand July 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. passing out free slices of fresh, juicy N.C. watermelon.

Watermelon Day, Western NC Farmers Market, Asheville
If you missed the event in Charlotte, take a trip to Asheville July 18 for another day of watermelon fun with free watermelon slices, a visit from the N.C. Watermelon Queen, and a watermelon-eating contest for the kids from 11 a.m.  to 1 p.m.

Peach Day, Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, Colfax
Also on July 18, the Triad farmers market will host a Peach Day celebration with a peach recipe contest and free peach samples from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Watermelon Day, Robert G. Shaw Triad Farmers Market, Colfax
The following week on July 25, the market will be passing out free slices of fresh, juicy N.C. Watermelon to shoppers from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visit the market and have your photo taken with the N.C. Watermelon Queen.

Watermelon Day, State Farmers Market, Raleigh
The State Farmers Market will host its Watermelon Day on July 31 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Stop by for free watermelon slices and meet the N.C. Watermelon Queen.

If you can’t make these special events, look for other opportunities to support local agriculture in the month of July. Visit a pick-your-own farm or brewery or winery, eat at a restaurant that supports local food during the inaugural Dig into Local Restaurant Week, or simply try a new North Carolina specialty product you’ve never tried before.

However you choose to celebrate, be on the lookout for the Got to Be NC logo wherever you shop. That way you’ll know you’re getting a quality product grown, raised, caught or made in North Carolina. And while you’re celebrating, share with your friends through social media using the hashtag #GottobeNC. Find out other ways to get involved in the Got to Be NC celebration at www.gottobenc.com.




Today’s Topic: June report shows increases in soybean acreage

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

The June crop acreage forecast from USDA has been released, and it shows significant gains in soybean acres in North Carolina. The state is forecast to see a 16 percent increase in soybean acreage this year, with growers expected to plant 1.7 million acres.

The forecast in North Carolina reflects the interest in soybeans across the country. U.S. farmers are forecast to plant about 85 million acres of soybeans this year, which is a record. There are a couple of reasons for that. There is tremendous international demand for U.S. soybeans, particularly from China. And soybean prices have been strong for quite a while.

With all the interest in soybeans, corn acres in the U.S. and North Carolina are expected to decrease this year. The corn forecast for North Carolina is 860,000 acres, which is 8 percent less than a year ago.

The state also saw a drop in wheat acreage this year. The total was 830,000, compared with a record 990,000 acres last year.

Overall, though, the state is expecting increases. Other crops with acreage gains include sweet potatoes, which are forecast to be up 22 percent, and peanuts, which are expected to rise by 10 percent.

After two straight years of declines, the cotton crop is forecast to increase by 5,000 acres this year, to a total of 470,000.

And the tobacco crop is expected to be 182,800 acres, slightly above last year’s total of 181,900.

Planted acreage is only part of the story. Ultimately, it comes down to how many acres you are able to harvest, and how much you yield from those acres.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Commissioner Troxler and Rhonda discuss the latest acreage forecast.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Southern Farm Network is a division of Curtis Media Group.


Grown in NC: Garner Farms

gtbGRCM12 5x16metalsign

Got to Be NC has a new marketing slogan – Grown. Raised. Caught. Made.

In celebration of Got to Be N.C. month we are featuring local farms and businesses and their products that are Grown. Raised. Caught. Made. here. To kick things off, we focus on Grown and highlight peanut farmer Ray Garner of Garner Farms in Halifax County.

North Carolina has about 5,000 peanut farms that produce 292 million pounds of peanuts each year, which ranks the state fifth in the nation in peanut production.

Ray Garner grows about 230 acres of peanuts on his farm in Halifax County. His family has been farming in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 300 years. The current farm, run by Garner, his dad and uncle, produces peanuts, wheat, soybeans and more than 1,700 acres of cotton. “The land we farm now has been in the family since my great-granddaddy bought it in 1900,” Garner said. If his children decide to follow him into the family business, they would be fifth-generation farmers. “If they would like to farm, I hope they really try and make a go of it,” he said. “I would help them be successful.”

“Getting started in farming is hard,” Garner said. “You almost have to have relatives in the business to be successful. Farming is expensive, it takes a phenomenal amount of capital to farm and it is hard to find land. A tractor can cost about $200,000 and a peanut combine is around $140,000.” Garner said for those who want to go into farming, coming from a farm family is an advantage, but he has seen others break into the business by choosing a mentor that farms and working with him. “Sometimes a farmer’s children will decide not to go into the business, in cases like this a farmer might look to train someone outside the family to take over the operation. I’ve seen this happen.”

Garner attended N.C. State University and earned his degree in agronomy, but he believes farming also takes experience that you only gain on the farm. “The only thing that helps you be ready to run your own farm is experience and common sense; you can’t farm by the book.” During growing season, Garner works six days, spending 60-plus hours a week in the field and even more doing paperwork once he’s finished in the fields. “Some of the challenges we face every year include having enough land to farm and the weather. My wife jokes about how much I watch The Weather Channel,” he said.

Farmer Ray Garner in one of his Halifax County peanut fields

Farmer Ray Garner in one of his peanut fields

For peanuts, the soil is prepped in early spring and peanuts are planted the first of May. Garner plants about 130 pounds of peanuts per acre. Summer is spent managing the crop and protecting it from insects and diseases. In late September, the peanuts, which grow underground, are turned up and left to dry in the field for about five days. After drying, the crop is harvested and delivered to a nearby buying point where they are graded by N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspectors.

Most of Garner’s peanuts are purchased by Golden Peanut Company, which has a regional office in Ahoskie. Golden Peanut Company prepares the peanuts by cleaning, shelling (if needed) and storing the peanuts before they are sold to end users. The peanuts are shelled at the company’s shelling facility in Aulander. Most North Carolina peanut farmers grow the Virginia-type peanut that is often sold as cocktail peanuts or the in-shell peanuts that are popular at ballgames. Virginia-type peanuts have a large oval shape, reddish brown skin, and are among the largest peanuts grown. The Virginia Carolina Peanut association says the average person eats about 12 pounds of peanuts annually.

Some of Garner’s peanuts are sold overseas as well. Demand for North Carolina products is increasing in the global marketplace. “It is truly a world marketplace for agriculture,” Garner said. “But that also means prices on the global market affect prices for our commodities in North Carolina.” In 2012, total agricultural exports were $3.7 billion, a 189 percent increase from 2005. Earlier this month Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and staff from the department’s international marketing section visited Germany, Switzerland and England to promote N.C. agricultural products. “Demand for food worldwide is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050,”  Troxler said. “Through inbound trade missions, overseas trips and our NCDA&CS office in Shanghai we want Got to Be N.C. to be known internationally as a symbol of quality.”

Agriculture may not be the same as it was when Garner’s great-great grandfather started farming; he probably couldn’t imagine $200,000 tractors and sales to China. Times have changed and farming has changed but agriculture remains our state’s number one industry and it’s growing, in part due to the hard work of farmers across our diverse state who deliver quality whether it’s Grown. Raised. Caught. or Made.


Next week: Raised in North Carolina. We will feature an Edgecombe County beef cattle farm.