Friday, May 31, 2013

Radio Interview about Our NC Alternative Crops and Organics Program

Very early this spring I got the chance to do an interview for The Better You Network. What fun that was!  Here's a link to the interview if you want to listen:  Interview with Jeanine Davis.  (I know it says Alison was supposed to be there, too, but she was ill and unable to participate).  We talked about farming, medicinal herbs, and all kinds of western NC agriculture related issues.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

NEW Position Open to Help Match Farmers with Farmland in Western North Carolina

This farm isn't for sale; this was just a pretty picture in my file!

Farm and Forest Land Access Service Coordinator:  An individual is needed in the Western North Carolina region to provide networking capacity and expertise in farmland information to fill the gap between owners of farm and forest land and promising farmers without access to land.  A partnership of NC State University, the NC Cooperative Extension Service, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Organic Growers School, Mountain Valleys Resource Conservation and Development, regional Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project has formed with the mission of developing an efficient network and expertise in connecting  promising landless farmers with farmland.

Funding for a half-time, 30 to 36 month position has been secured through the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge "Growing our Agricultural Sector" Project – part of the GroWNC Implementation ProjectDr. Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science with NC State University is the Principal Investigator related to the Farmland Access Initiative portion of the larger GroWNC Project.  Funding for the Farmland Access Service Position will be provided through NC State University.  An office space for the Farmland Access Service Position will be provided by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in downtown Asheville, NC.

Qualifications:   Strong interpersonal and facilitation skills; a large amount of creativity; self reliance; ability to take initiative; ability to effectively manage multiple tasks; ability to work independently and in project teams; positive attitude and energy; team spirit; and good communication skills. Minimum of one year of experience coordinating workshops, community meetings, and other such events. Minimum of an undergraduate degree is required. Strong computer skills and proficiency with Word, Powerpoint, and Excel required. Familiarity with local and regional food systems and an existing network of relationships within the agricultural community is preferred. Must be able to work well with all types of agricultural producers and staff of agricultural support organizations.  Several years experience with land conservation and agricultural support organizations is a plus, as well as working with a coalition.

Compensation: This is a half-time position (20 hours per week). Compensation will be commensurate with experience up to $20,000 per year. Paid sick days, annual leave days, and holidays provided, but no health insurance or retirement benefits.

Position Description:
Challenges:  Many farmers in our region are reaching retirement age, and some do not have plans for transitioning their farm or forest land and keeping it in production. Also, there are other landowners with farm and forest land that is currently out of production.  At the same time, there is a growing number of farmers, some beginning farmers, that are finding it difficult to access farmland to start or maintain their farming operations. This is due to multiple factors that may include the cost of farmland, difficulty in connecting with those that own farmland, and lack of knowledge about how to search for farmland.  This position grew out of a project several of us on this team were involved in several years ago called the Farm Prosperity Project.

Opportunities:  Finding solutions to bridge the gap between retiring farmers and other landowners with farmers in need of access to land.  Land access opportunities can include:
• lease agreements with private landowners
• lease agreement at incubator farms
• lease-to-buy situations with retiring farmers
• lease with option to purchase small portions of land in order to build a house or place to live next to the farm or forestland
• donation / bargain sale to land trust to re-sell at agricultural value
• aspiring farmer purchases land and recoups portion of cost through sale of development rights

Mission:  Create opportunities to connect landowners that have available farmland with farmers in need of access to farmland.

1.  Partner Coordination
• Coordinate relationships and information between participating partners
• Work with partners to develop relationships with retiring farmers and landowners
• Work with partners to develop relationships with farmers
• Receive direction and insight from a steering committee of partners
• Serve as the main contact to receive and distribute land access inquiries

2.  Landowner Relationship Development – Outreach and Education
• Hold events (workshops, community meetings, dinners, etc.) to develop relationships with landowners, land seekers, and community leaders
• Inform retiring farmers and landowners about this program (what it is, what it means, what the problems are, why they would want to do it, what it would do for agriculture & the community)
• Educate retiring farmers about farm transition options / estate planning
• Educate landowners about the skilled farmers that are out there and a vetting process that they would have to go through to gain access to land
• Maintain information on potential landowners and land that may be available

3.  Farmer Relationship Development
• Maintain information on farmers seeking land
• Create qualification standards and application process that aspiring farmers must meet to qualify for the program (could be various levels for leasing vs. buying land)
• Build relationships with aspiring farmers and inform them about the program

4.  Making Connections
• Coordinate events to have landowners and farmland seekers meet and connect
• Facilitate connections between landowners and  land seekers; perhaps through a searchable online database
• Help facilitate any lease agreements
• Refer potential land transactions or easements to land trust / Soil & Water district
• Generate useful materials such as template lease agreements, sample contracts,  etc.

How to Apply:  To apply for this position, you must go through the North Carolina State University Job Application Site.  This is an on-line process where you create an account and fill out an application and upload your CV (resume), a cover letter, and contact information for three references.  Here is the link to apply for this position.  This position will remain open until we find the appropriate individual to fill it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Walking Tours of Our Woodland Botanicals Research

On Thursday May 2nd extension agents Jenn Beck (Madison County), Meghan Baker (Buncombe County), and Bart Renner (Transylvania County) brought over 20 of their growers out to the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station to do a walking tour and discussion of our woodland plant test plots. All of the growers are interested in expanding their crop production to include woodland plants.

Ginseng receives the most attention of the woodland plants because of its high price. There are plenty of other woodland plants that have a market value including bloodroot, black cohosh, false unicorn, partridge berry, and goldenseal.  All of these plants take at least four years to reach a marketable age, but the investment in time and patience could pay off. We are regularly speaking with wholesale buyers who would like to form long-term relationships with growers who can have consistent supply of certain woodland botanicals. In the past, wholesale buyers and consolidators did not have trouble finding wild-harvesters to purchase material from. With land-development, over-harvesting, and many traditional wild-harvesters not harvesting anymore, obtaining plant material is becoming more difficult.

A few large-scale herb consolidators that we are working with tell us that the buying preferences are slowly changing. In the past, wild-plants were the preferred material. With the changing supply dynamics, buyers are recognizing the need to cultivate these plants in their native setting (also referred to as woods-cultivated or wild-simulated). One buyer simply stated that if people don’t start growing these plants now, in ten years these plants will not be commercially available.
Landowners in Western North Carolina are in a favorable position to fill this supply gap. Our hardwoods are the ideal home for many of these plants to flourish. Cultivating them in their native setting not only helps take pressure off of wild populations, but can bring additional income to landowners.

If you are an extension agent who would like to bring a group to the Research Station to do a walking tour of the woods to learn more about growing and marketing these plants; or if you are a landowner and have other landowners/growers interested in woodland botanicals, please contact Alison Dressler at or 828-684-3562 x150.

For more information about growing woodland botanicals and fungi, please visit

Alison Dressler is a Research Assistant in Jeanine Davis' NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program at NC State University.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Updates for Farmers on Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs and Kudzu Bugs

Photo from USDA
Many of us dealt with the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug on our crops and in our homes and gardens last year. You may be finding a few of them around the house right now! These insects are new to the U.S. and can cause devastating damage to a wide variety of crops. Unfortunately, we don't know how best to control them yet.  There are several research projects around the country studying Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, including a new one focused on organic control. Here is an update on some of the research being done and what we know so far: VIDEO.  Here is a link to a webinar that eOrganic recently held giving some of the preliminary management information from the organic project: WEBINAR. And here is a link to the STOP BROWN MARMORATED STINK BUG page, containing detailed information from the multi-state project focused on learning more about this insect and how to control it.
Photo from IPM Center NCSU

Another new insect we have to learn to live with is the Kudzu Bug. Like the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, the damage caused by Kudzu Bugs can be devastating to commercial crops and gardens. They may also be on and in your homes. Fortunately, they are easier to control than the Stink Bug. Here is a short video about the Kudzu Bug from the University of Georgia: VIDEO (there is a short Dupont advertisement at the start of this video).  Debbie Roos, Chatham County Extension Agent, has also posted a great webpage on Kudzu Bugs with lots of good pictures: KUDZU BUGS.

Contact your county extension agent for more information: NC COUNTY EXTENSION CENTER LOCATOR

Friday, May 17, 2013

Specialty Crops We Are Studying-Arrange Tours to See

A group visiting the woodland herbs site in April 2013
I am getting many more inquiries than usual about what specialty crops we are working on this year and if folks can come out to see them.  We love to show off what we are doing because you are the reason we are doing the work!  That said, we are short-staffed, all my staff are paid for through grants, and time is limited. So, if you would like to visit, please try to arrange for a group of people to come. It makes much better use of our time to tell ten people about a project at one time than to have ten separate visits. Also, please consider making a donation to our program when you come. Those donations help us pay for the signs to label the plots and labor to keep everything looking "company ready" and to serve as tour guides.
These are the projects we have going this year that you might be interested in:

1.      Hops-definitely number #1 in popularity right now! We have a research hop yard with ten varieties at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River. Contact to arrange a tour.

2.      Woodland Botanicals, including ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh, bloodroot, and ramps-We have a demonstration research area in the woods that several extension agents are bringing tour groups through this year. My staff provide a good commentary as you walk through.  Contact to arrange a tour. At the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River.

3.      Chinese Medicinal Herbs-we have a demonstration/testing growing and processing area at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River. We grow, learn, harvest, process, and test herbs from these plots. We had a great hands-on workshop with these last fall that we will probably repeat. Contact too arrange a visit.

4.      Black Perigord Truffle Orchards-We have two truffle orchards planted at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. Both are filberts; one was planted in 2010 and the other last week. To arrange a tour contact .

5.      Echinacea-We have two large trials for Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River and at the Upper Piedmont Research Station in Reidsville. There are six seed sources for each species and there are plants that will be harvested this year after two years of growth and a set that will grow through next year, too. Contact to arrange a visit.

6.      Organic Broccoli-There is a participatory variety trial for broccoli and broccoli rabb on the organic unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. In August there will be a workshop where attendees will help rate the varieties. You can arrange a tour by contacting

7.      Conventional Broccoli Trials-We have a multi-state study underway where we are evaluating new breeding lines and varieties of broccoli at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. Five planting dates, grown on white plastic, geared to wholesale producers. Contact if you want to tour it.

8.      Stevia-We are still waiting to see if this project launches or not, but the interest in the crop has definitely been raised. We hope to have several fields of three chemotypes of stevia growing at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River. If the funding doesn’t come through, we will at least have a small number of plants (50 to 100) planted out that people can see what the plants look and taste like. To visit contact

The hop yard in 2012.

US Composting Council Asking EPA to Stop Sales of Persistent Herbicides that Contaminate Compost

Picloram damage on lettuce. Photo by Sue Colucci
I know the issue of persistent herbicides contaminating manures and composts is important to many of you because you contact me by phone and email, send me pictures, and have lengthy on-line forum discussions about it, so I thought many of you would be interested in this:

The US Composting Council has a position paper posted on their website where they outline the damage that has been caused by persistent herbicides in manure and compost. They are asking the EPA to address this issue by halting sales of persistent herbicides in the U.S.. You can read that position paper at   (it is big and takes a few minutes to download).

This is a reminder to all of you who use manure, compost, straw, straw bales, hay, and grass clippings in your gardens and on your farms. Know where your material comes from before putting it on your soil. Ask questions. If in doubt, do bioassays. How to do a bioassay is described in the NCSU Herbicide Carryover leaflet found here .  Katie Jennings, weed scientist, and I are in the process of updating that leaflet.  Updates will include removing fluroxpyr and triclopyr from the herbicides of concern AND expanding the length of time that the bioassays should be done (at least five weeks). You can read my blog posts on the bioassay experiments with tomatoes that made me change that here: .

Manure and composts made from manure are wonderful soil amendments, but some people are steering away from using them because of the herbicide concerns and the difficulty in finding out of the materials they want to use are clean or not. 
Aminopyralid damage on tomatoes. Photo by Jeanine Davis

Pepper plant growing in soil amended with aminopyralid contaminated compost (top) and pepper plant from same group of transplants but planted in soil that was not amended with compost (bottom). Photos provided by home gardener.

We Expanded Our Research and Demonstration Truffle Orchards This Week!

On Wednesday, we expanded our Black Perigord truffle research/demonstration area by planting over 70 inoculated filbert trees. These trees were generously donated by Garland Truffles. The new orchard is located right next to our existing orchard at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC. As you can see from the pictures, this is a beautiful location for our orchards!
We continue to use the truffle orchard establishment method developed by Franklin Garland. This involves planting through black polypropylene landscape fabric with drip-irrigation.
These are special filbert trees because they are supposed to be immune to Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB). EFB is a big problem for truffle growers. It can seriously damage or kill a tree.
It will be five years or so before these trees start producing truffles. In the intervening years, we have to work to raise the soil pH through annual applications of lime, keep the orchard weeded and watered, prune the trees, and monitor for diseases and insects. Unlike our other orchard, hopefully we won't be spraying for EFB!
We pruned our established orchard in February.
Our established truffle orchard is visible in the background here, just behind the new planting area.  The trees were planted in the spring of 2010.