MILLS RIVER, N.C.—Western North Carolina farmers received $148,500 in WNC Agricultural Options grants to diversify their farm businesses in the 2013 growing season. The 28 grant recipients celebrated January 29 at an event at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River. The goal of the farms' projects is to enhance profitability.
The WNC AgOptions grant program has been funded exclusively by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission since 2003. "The Commission is very pleased to fund and support the WNC AgOptions program for another year," said Bill Teague, Chairman of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. "We expect to see some unique projects, because mountain farmers have shown they are resourceful, innovative and committed to making their farms successful."
Six farm businesses received $3,000, one received $4,500, and 21 received $6,000. Many of the farmers are undertaking projects that are unique to their counties, and some are leading the way in innovative agriculture nationwide.
Tester Dairy Farm in Watauga County is creating a hydroponic fodder system, which grows barley, rye and wheat from seed to sprouts in eight days so that the farmers can feed their cattle high-protein grasses daily. The fresh palatable feed is proven to enhance animals' milk production, improve fertility and decrease respiratory issues. Thomas and Margaret Tester said they are renovating the farm so that their granddaughter Jessica Lawrence can take it over without the worries of weather, lease agreements and costs associated with row crops.
South Valley Nursery and Landscaping in Avery County is building a micropropagation lab so that grant recipient Tyler Buchanan can mass produce unique plants such as native orchids that are expensive to propagate using traditional techniques. Tissue culture requires a significant upfront investment, specialized training and a sterile environment to be able to produce new plants in vitro (in a test tube), but payoff can be significant since the demand for these rare native plants is high.
Joe Ward in Jackson County is establishing a no-till planting system in an area where few farmers use this method. In no-till fields, soil erosion and runoff decrease as a network of fibrous and tap roots grow throughout the soil profile, providing pathways for air and moisture. This method also creates a good environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria, fungi and enzymes, all crucial for healthy crops.
|Photo courtesy of Addison Farms Vineyard.|
The grant projects help many of the grant recipients' achieve their dreams of passing their farming operations to their children or grandchildren. Rick Walker, who is building a poultry processing facility in Cherokee County, named his farm after his four sons, Ricky, Joseph, Daniel and Joshua, who are ages six and under. "4 Sons Farm is the name I chose not only because I have four sons, but because it is for my sons," Walker said. "I began farming to provide wholesome food for our children, to teach them an ancient and respected way of life, and to create a business legacy to hand down to them."