Agriculture

A picture of chickens.
woodley wonderworks / Wikipedia

The fall bird migration season has poultry producers concerned.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said avian flu is not dangerous to humans, but it is highly contagious among birds and can wipe out entire poultry flocks.

Image from a drone hovering in the air
NGAT at NC State

North Carolina is taking small steps toward opening up the skies for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Department of Transportation has created a position to regulate the skies for recreation and commercial drone pilots and the state is creating new test that ensures pilots know the rules before they launch their planes into the skies.

Image of Ramon, who helps out with a Know Your Rights training session.
Ramon Zepeda

Foreign-born farmworkers are vital to the American food system. But while most of the produce that ends up on American plates is handpicked, the day-to-day lives of people laboring in the fields still remains more or less invisible. Ramón Zepeda is a 28-year-old working to change visibility of farmworkers.He grew up in a small farming community in Jalisco, Mexico. Most of his family members have spent time in the fields, and he has devoted his life to working in solidarity with underrepresented workers.

NC Poultry Industry Prepares For Bird Flu

Jun 11, 2015
chickens
Katie Brady / Wikimedia Commons

State agriculture officials are ramping up efforts to protect North Carolina's poultry industry against the avian flu.

The bird flu, called H5N2, is not a danger to humans, but has devastated poultry flocks in 21 states. Since its first appearance in December 2014 in British Columbia, the virus has killed nearly 50 million birds. The disease is spread by wild water fowl as they migrate across the continent. 

North Carolina is still free of the bird flu, but Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that may change as wild birds begin their migration south in the fall.

Pat McCrory
Dave DeWitt

Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed two bills this week that stirred controversy as they passed through the state legislature. 

House Bill 405- dubbed by opponents as an "ag-gag" bill- would have allowed businesses to sue employees who secretly recorded animal abuse or other illegal activity. The bill applied to farms, along with businesses like restaurants and daycare centers.

The Haw River as seen from the Bynum Bridge with 15-501 in the distance
Keith Weston / WUNC

Depending on the perspective, the announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency was instituting a new, updated and clarified Clean Water Rule is either a cause for celebration in North Carolina or a cause for fear that it will choke the state's economy

What is most likely, of course, is that the rule will come under further partisan attacks.

A picture of strawberries.
BeccaG / Flickr

North Carolina's strawberry harvest is expected to be strong, even though a cold winter damaged some plants.

Don Nicholson is a regional agronomist for the state Department of Agriculture.

"We still had those extremely cold nights, and even though the plants are dormant, they still had some damage to the crown, which translates into some growers not having much fruit right now."

Nicholson says it hasn't resulted in a marked shortage.

"The Last Barn Dance" tells the story of North Carolina dairy farmer Randy Lewis.
Ted Richardson and Jason Arthurs

    

Randy Lewis' dairy farm has been a gathering place for the people of Eli Whitney, N.C., for more than 50 years.

His family's annual barn dances are living relics of simpler times in North Carolina's agricultural industry.

But the Great Recession forced farmers to find new ways to save those traditions. Many went out of business. Lewis and a handful of others stopped falling further into debt by bottling their own milk. But it remains to be seen whether cultural traditions like the barn dance will stay alive.

Oysters On The Rise

Mar 10, 2015
North Carolina's oyster sales doubled between 2005 and 2012.
Miwok / Flickr Creative Commons

  

Oyster growers, researchers and enthusiasts gather in Raleigh today and tomorrow for the North Carolina Oyster Summit.

Food writer and oyster expert Rowan Jacobsen will give the event's keynote address on the rise of oysterculture in the southeastern U.S. and North Carolina. He wrote a book, A Geography of Oysters: the Connoisseur's Guide to Oyster Eating in North America (Bloomsbury USA/2007).

Photo by Barcelona-based photographer Violeta de Lama, courtesy of Wil Weldon.

More and more people around the world are choosing to get their hands dirty—digging in the dirt in their backyard or at a community garden to plant produce.

Mary-Dell Chilton is a pioneer in the field of agricultural biotechnology. As a young scientist at Washington University, she led the team of researchers that produced the first genetically-modified plant. Chilton moved to North Carolina in the early 1980s to begin her corporate career and has continued to conduct research that shapes the agricultural production of corn, cotton, and other crops.

Oxfam distribution in East Africa, 2011
wikipedia

More than one billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat. Some experts estimate a need for more food in the next 40 years than in the last 10,000. National Geographic contributor Joel Bourne wrote a 2009 cover story, The End of Plenty, about the crisis. He has continued his reporting on the causes of the food shortage crisis and strategies used to address it. Host Frank Stasio talks with Bourne about his work.

Hofmann Forest
Historical State, NCSU Libraries

A resolution may come soon in the case of the Hofmann Forest sale.

N.C. State University is trying to sell the 80,000-acre coastal forest. Opponents say the land serves many vital conservation purposes and should not be sold. 

Since a Wake County Superior Court judge threw out the case last November, opponents have launched two online petitions, flooded the Attorney General’s office with 4,000 emails, and placed hundreds of yard signs across the Triangle and eastern North Carolina.

A picture of a boy and a steer.
Green N' Growing collection / North Carolina State University Libraries

Employees from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension will travel from across the state to Raleigh today and tomorrow to celebrate the organization's 100th anniversary.

The Cooperative Extension is based out of North Carolina State University and NC A&T State University. Their personnel work in every county to connect farmers with new research and technology. But the organization, which runs 4-H, is also invested in helping families in general.

Sheri Schwab is an associate director of the Cooperative Extension at NC State.

Students on a lawn at N.C. State University
Scott Akerman via Flickr

Many studies show that students in rural counties are less likely to go to college, especially four-year or private institutions. Faced with that reality, some university leaders are reconsidering how to attract students from rural communities.

At North Carolina State University, leaders are expanding their current programs that serve and prepare high school students. Earlier this year, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences received a $3 million endowment from a Raleigh couple to help rural students win admission to the university.

Photo: Apples in a farmer's market
Amber Carnes via Flickr

North Carolina lawmakers are looking for ways they can help get fresh fruits and vegetables to corners of the state -- urban and rural -- where they’re difficult to access.

Non-profit organizations and local governments across the country have for years identified areas known as “food deserts” across the country, but the House Committee on Food Desert Zones is the first effort by state lawmakers to address the issue.

Sweet potato fields in Eastern NC.
Bob Is Traveling / Flickr Creative Commons

Many farms spread human waste on cropland to fertilize it. In this case, the waste is called "biosolids". It can carry household chemicals that affect important bacteria, and that can hurt soil health.

The government has had a hard time regulating chemicals in biosolids, because the equipment that measured bacterial gases was very expensive.

But a new report from Duke University's school of engineering shows that bacterial reactions to chemicals can be assessed by changes in color. That's a cheaper test to administer.

USDA protest
USDA photo by Anson Eaglin. / flickr

Starvation is often considered a problem distant from the American experience.

But for many United States citizens, hunger is a way of life. And many of them live right here in North Carolina.

The NC National Guard visits a 4-H camp.
NC National Guard / Flickr Creative Commons

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension wants communities across the state to help the organization change its business strategy. 

The Cooperative Extension is in the middle of a series of 12 meetings to adjust to budget cuts.  The group funds agricultural, nutrition and youth education programs like 4-H camps.  Four of those camps are shutting down by the end of the year. 

Cooperative Extension director Joe Zublena  says he's asking people for feedback about which programs matter the most.

NC Sweet Potato Commission

Buyers of sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina will likely pay more for them at the market this year. North Carolina sweet potato growers have led the nation for years in producing the root crop.  State agriculture estimates are that Tar Heels last year produced about 47 percent of the crop nationally.

But Sue Johnson-Langdon of the non-profit North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission says this year's yield fell victim to mid-year rainfall that ranks among the wettest in more than a century.  

Laura Candler

In the supermarket today, you can find about a dozen kinds of apples. But years ago, there were hundreds and hundreds of varieties grown all over the South. North Carolina native Lee Calhoun once had 3,000 apple trees growing in his backyard in Pittsboro. I visited him there recently and he showed what was left.

“This is a remnant of an old orchard I used to have,” he said. “Most of them are gone now. This is an Orange Cauley, a little bit different from a regular Cauley, and this is a Green River --that’s a Kentucky apple.”

An aerial view of BASF's Crop Protection and PlantScience site in Research Triangle Park.
BASF

Officials with a leading plant sciences company have expanded their presence in Research Triangle Park.  BASF cut the ribbon today on new lab, office and greenhouse space.  The expansion cost $33 million. 

The new addition includes an insect production facility, or an "insect zoo," to aid in testing bug-killing agents.  Nigel Armes is BASF's director of research and development.  He says the facility is key in establishing the company as a leader in insecticide production.

Visitors harvest lavender at Bluebird Hill Farm in Chatham County. Agritourism.
Bluebird Hill Farm

The Triangle foodie scene is growing its digital footprint. A new website called TriangleGrown launched by the Destination Marketing Organizations for Orange, Durham, Johnston, Chatham and Wake Counties aims to promote agritourism by being a go-to resource for people interested in exploring the local farming community.

Heavy rain could be reducing farm yields across the state, like this one in western NC.
mystuart via Flickr, creative commons

Record rainfalls across much of North Carolina have resulted in poor crop growth. When there's too much moisture, root systems often don't get a chance to develop fully, and certain nutrients, like nitrogen, also tend to be depleted.

Carl Crozier, soil science professor and extension specialist at N.C. State, says it's a complex issue because of all the different types of soil in North Carolina.

Potato late blight lesion, a fungus-like pathogen on a plant.
Jean Ristaino, NC State University

New research reveals the disease that wiped out millions of potatoes and led to widespread famine in Ireland is still around, and it’s more virulent than ever.  A new study led by NC State University plant pathologist Jean Ristaino investigates the history of the fungus-like organism that caused the Irish potato famine and how its genome has evolved since it first showed up in Ireland in the 1800’s.

Honey Bees
Clinton & Charles Robertson

The past year has been a bad one for America's honeybees, with commercial beekeepers reporting hive losses of up to 50 percent. Some blame the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder; others blame pesticides; and many scientists say we just don't know. 

Mercy for Animals

A bill in the state Senate could put an end to secret videos seeking to expose shoddy business practices.  The N.C Commerce Protection Act would stop advocacy groups from getting hidden-camera evidence of crimes unbeknownst to employers. 

Mercy For Animals made one such video at a Butterball plant in Hoke County in 2011 that led to charges.  The group's lead investigator Matt Rice says the bill would go beyond just animal cruelty.

Strickland Farms tobacco and house
Leoneda Inge

Farmers in North Carolina and around the country are keeping their eyes on Washington, where Congress is crafting a new Farm Bill

The Senate's version cuts more than $2 billion in agricultural spending per year, but includes about $100 billion in subsides over the next five years.  President Obama has asked Senators to find more ways to save money, including cuts to a farm insurance program.

strawberries
NC Strawberry Association

Researchers at N.C. State say oils extracted from herbs and spices could act as a natural disinfectant for fruits and vegetables. 

A joint project with the University of Tennessee aims to find an alternative to chlorine used on produce grown for mass consumption. Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie is a horticultural science professor at N.C. State's research campus in Kannapolis.  She says pungent spices tend to be best at fighting harmful germs.

"They have a very distinct odor, like cinnamon, for instance," Perkins-Veazie says.

USDA photo by Anson Eaglin / flickr

Starvation is often considered a problem distant from the American experience. But for many United States citizens, hunger is a way of life. And many of them live right here in North Carolinians.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 636,000 households in the state have been labeled “food insecure” within the past year. This means that over 17 percent of our families lack consistent access to nutritious food. Families hit hardest by food insecurity are Black, Latino and homes led by single mothers.

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