Giving Startups a Boost

Giving Startups a Boost

AgLaunch’s new Accelerator program supports agricultural startups

Ready, set, accelerate! Led by Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s Ag Innovation Development Group, and supported by the expertise of Start Co. and EPIcenter, the 15-week AgLaunch Accelerator program launched in August 2016 to further attract, train, and support agri-tech and food startups.

The four companies selected to participate – Cowlar, Secure Food Solutions, Skycision and YieldStart – demonstrated that they were on the cutting edge and ready for takeoff, if only provided the key resources needed to succeed.

The Accelerator teams were provided $50,000 seed capital. Not only that, they were given world-class instruction on business model development, customer discovery, prototyping and preparation for investment. The businesses also gained one-on-one time with farmers to test their innovations and access to a national mentor list of experts.

In just 90 days, the Accelerator program successfully proved that “we could attract quality startups from around the world, provide quality assistance that has helped each company grow tremendously, and that the agriculture and investment community is willing to support the effort with time, access to resources, and funding,” says Pete Nelson, director for AgLaunch Initiative, president of Ag Innovation Development Group LLC and vice president of Ag Innovation, Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

By the end of the program, teams had already raised additional funding and deployed technology across the nation. Moving forward, AgLaunch will continue to offer multiple accelerators annually across Tennessee
with additional programs such as weekend boot camps on agricultural university campuses.

When reflecting on their time in the Accelerator program, the CEOs of Cowlar and Skycision concur that by surrounding entrepreneurs with what is needed to be successful, AgLaunch has become a one-stop shop for agricultural innovation.

Located in Pakistan and Memphis, Cowlar is poised to change the dairy industry with its “Fitbit” type of device for cows, designed to improve herd health and optimize operations. With AgLaunch Accelerator resources at his fingertips, Umer Adnan, CEO of Cowlar, achieved numerous milestones, including identifying new customer segments in the U.S. and emerging markets.

“AgLaunch has been great in terms of providing the perfect blend of agriculture and business/technology training. We’re also extremely lucky to have had the chance to develop some key strategic partnerships that allow us to reach customers more efficiently,” Adnan says.

Citing Tennessee as the perfect location for overseas startups, Adnan is now exploring how Cowlar can start manufacturing and assembling units in the U.S. with a base in Memphis for shipping, returns, fulfillment, and customer support for North and South American customers.

“The AgLaunch program is the perfect breeding ground for learning and growing startups in the ag-tech space. I would encourage other startups to be part of the program as they provide tremendous value as an accelerator,” he says.

Through the analysis of drone-collected imagery, Skycision is helping farmers detect crop stress earlier than ever before. Initially focusing on vineyards, the business is now expanding its solution to specialty row crops, commodities and orchards with help from AgLaunch.

“AgLaunch has a valuable network to leverage. It was important for us to sit down and understand how our solution can translate between crop types, how we can most efficiently scale up, and where we decide to allocate our resources,” says Brendan Carroll, CEO of Skycision.

Carroll has also found that “without putting your boots on, walking in the fields, and understanding the decisions farmers have to make and the pains they face, you can’t develop a successful solution. That connection is fundamental to agri-tech innovation.”

Making strong associations, finding experts in the ag-tech space and identifying investors are all essential components to Skycision’s future growth potential. Tennessee offers the whole package.

“Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. It’s important to find allies like AgLaunch that are willing to take that ride with you,” he says.

This article was published in Tennessee Ag Insider magazine | 2017.

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‘A’ is for Agriculture

‘A’ is for Agriculture

Tennessee farmers are teaching firsthand how food is produced

When asked about their work, most farmers will tell you there’s never a dull moment. After all, they wear many hats – producer, planner, laborer, caretaker and even teacher. The farmer’s role as educator has become increasingly important in recent years, as consumers are returning to farmlands asking where, and how, their food is produced.

One way farmers are educating the public is by opening their doors to visitors. For Tennessee operators looking for examples, look to the models set by Falcon Ridge Farm and Apple Valley Orchard. Both are successfully addressing consumer concerns and teaching the next generation what it’s like to be a modern-day farmer.

The Gilmers of Falcon Ridge Farm in Toone have always been blessed with fresh fruits and vegetables. The fourth-generation farm family wants to share this luxury with others, so they held their first fall festival complete with corn maze and pumpkin patch in 2009.

“We have been adding a new event or attraction to the farm each year since,” owner Ray Gilmer says. “We really enjoy sharing our farm with the public. It is such a joy to see children learning about life on a farm. We hope to inspire a new generation to carry on the tradition.”

To accomplish this goal, Falcon Ridge offers an Easter festival with egg hunts and the Easter Bunny; a strawberry festival featuring strawberry picking and a strawberry-eating contest; and cut Christmas trees where families take a wagon ride out to the fields. Not to mention pick-your-own blueberries and blackberries.

The farm also has animal and crop interaction with all of its events. For example, school groups attend “Mr. Ray’s Horse Lesson” and learn about equine history, anatomy, diet and proper care. Gilmer also shares his experience with training breeds like the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Falcon Ridge Farm also runs a community supported agriculture program, or CSA, offering consumers fresh fruits and vegetables along with knowledge about how that food is grown. The farm teaches how to properly clean, store and prepare produce.

Starting with just two apple trees in the 1960s, Apple Valley Orchard now boasts approximately 15,000 trees off the back roads of Cleveland. About 98 percent of the orchard’s produce is sold at a store located right on the farm – making visitor interaction and education essential.

“We love talking to customers on the retail floor and helping them make decisions on apples,” owner Chuck McSpadden says. “We also get a lot of elementary school field trips. In September and October, Monday through Friday, we are booked every day with 100 to 150 kids. We do a trailer ride through the orchard and talk about insects, how we control them and why we have to protect our apples,” he adds.

In addition, the orchard offers public tours during weekends in September and October, educating consumers about growing apples.

“I get a lot of questions about spraying on our farm; we are very open about what we spray and how we spray,” McSpadden says. He always tells the curious minds, “I’m vigilant and careful about what we spray, because I probably eat more apples than anybody!”

There are a lot of misconceptions, McSpadden says. Such candid talks with consumers help dispel myths, and may encourage them to opt for more farm-fresh foods in the future.

You can find learning opportunities on farms across Tennessee. Access the Pick TN Products mobile app or visit to find farms that offer educational tours, farm crop festivals, seasonal products and activities for all ages.

This article was published in Tennessee Ag Insider magazine | 2017.

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Protecting the Public

Protecting the Public

KDA regulates pesticide industry, controls mosquitoes and other pests

Whether it’s nuisance weeds like thistle and teasel, or insects like mosquitoes and black flies, these “pests” can cause as much stress as they can damage. While Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices are a key component to the solution, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) recognizes that pesticides also hold risks and must be regulated to protect human health and the environment.


“We devote a lot of our time to promotion and education of proper use of pesticides,” says David Wayne, director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Division of Environmental Services, which provides presentations for safety and regulation updates at more than 50 events each year. “Our regulations require continuing education courses for maintenance of pesticide licenses.”

KDA requires 12 CEUs (continuing education units) every three years to maintain a pesticide license. Additionally, KDA offers a compliance assistance program so a company can request to be inspected without being penalized for self-reporting.

“We’d much rather everyone be in compliance – helping a company be proactive rather than reactive once they get a violation,” Wayne says.

To further ensure proper use of pest control products and techniques indoors, KDA visits schools, daycares, health institutes, and food prep areas, inspecting nearly 500 of these facilities annually to keep structure- invading pests under control.

Whether applying, selling or recommending products for pesticide application, in Kentucky both companies and individuals need a license.

“There are 3,100 pesticide application companies that we regulate, and within those companies, there are 11,000 individual applicators. Plus, we have 12,000 private applicators that we license – like your ag producers,” Wayne says.

Because of new technologies and innovation in agriculture, there are always new pesticide application techniques and products being developed within the industry. However, one trend Wayne has noticed in recent years is that fewer pesticides are being used overall.

“With precision agriculture and IPM, producers and consumers are using the exact amount of product needed to control the pest or weeds,” Wayne says. “This has created a dramatic decrease in the amount of pesticides being used, while saving money and reducing the impact on the environment.”


The Public Pest and Recycling Assistance branch of the KDA aids citizens with environmental concerns, from pesticide disposal to insect control, through its proactive voluntary programs.

For example, empty plastic pesticide containers can’t go to the landfill or through the normal recycling chain. Instead, as part of the Rinse and Return recycling program, these containers go to a designated recycling facility.

“Annually, we collect about 70,000 pounds of pesticide containers,” Wayne says. “That’s 70,000 pounds not entering the landfill and turned into useful end product like plastic fence posts, plastic pallets, and wire spools. We also keep 35,000 pounds of unwanted pesticide material out of landfills each year, which could leech out into waterways.”

KDA’s public pest programs also help protect ag producers and residents from mosquitoes, black flies, and nuisance weeds.

“On average, we treat 100,000 acres statewide for mosquito control annually,” Wayne says. “We target high-population areas where people congregate, like parks, fairgrounds and schools in order to limit the spread of mosquito-borne viruses and diseases.”

Another bothersome pest, black flies can stress livestock to the point of decreased weight gain and milk production, and even calf mortalities. KDA performs a treatment once a year on 70 miles of river waters, impacting nearby communities and ag production tremendously.

For nuisance weeds, which include any weed that is affecting yields in ag production on 10-plus acres, KDA provides spray equipment for first-time applicators. This program’s goal is to demonstrate what farmers can do on their own to control weeds.

As pesky as these pests can be, knowing the best options and resources available is half the battle.

This article was published in Kentucky Proud magazine | 2016-17.

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Protecting Our Pollinators

Protecting Our Pollinators

North Carolina ag community takes action to attract native pollinators

Whether farming hundreds of acres or gardening in the backyard, pollinators are a critical component to agriculture’s success ensuring proper development, more fruit and viable seed. In North Carolina, honeybees alone pollinate more than $200 million worth of crops. However, considering that pollinators include not only 4,000 species of bees but also pollen wasps, ants, flower beetles, butterflies, moths and a variety of flies, the value is priceless.

Determined to better attract and protect all pollinators statewide, North Carolina’s agriculture community is pursuing several initiatives that are already making a significant impact.


In April 2016, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) joined the efforts of 13 other states by participating in FieldWatch, an online mapping program created by Purdue University. In just a short amount of time, this voluntary service has tremendously improved communication between beekeepers, farmers and pesticide sprayers, helping prevent bee deaths and crop damage due to accidental pesticide drift, confirms Patrick Jones, NCDA&CS deputy director of pesticide programs.

“With growers covering so many different counties, it’s hard to know what bees are in the area,” Jones says. But once registered, FieldWatch sends email notifications when a new apiary opens.

The applicators know to time sprays late in the afternoon when bees are less active. “Farmers want beekeepers to know how much they appreciate the bees being there.”

Additional protection measures include following integrated pest management practices recommended by NCDA&CS. For example, Sevin dust is one of the worst products for bees, but it becomes safer when changed from dust to liquid form.

“Educating the consumer is a top priority,” Jones stresses. Current outreach efforts include county bee days, pollinator and garden events, and demonstrations at county fairs throughout the state. “With FieldWatch and our pollinator protection programs, we are making a big impact across North Carolina.”


Located in the Chatham Mills complex in Pittsboro is the “Pollinator Paradise” Demonstration Garden, attracting not only native pollinators, but hundreds of visitors annually.

“I created the garden in 2008 as a demonstration garden to teach visitors about creating habitats for pollinators. Since then, it has more than doubled in size and now includes over 180 perennial species, 85 percent of which are native to North Carolina,” says Debbie Roos, who gives regular tours of the garden as an agent for the Chatham County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

“I want visitors to see that you can have a beautiful, drought-tolerant, pesticide-free landscape that helps sustain pollinators, which are so vital to our local food system.”

For homeowners looking to attract and protect pollinators, Roos recommends planting diverse perennials to provide a long bloom season from early spring through late fall with a minimum of three to five different species for each season. It’s also critical to avoid applying pesticides to blooming plants and pesticides toxic to bees.

“North Carolina has over 500 species of native bees, and about 75 percent of them are solitary species that nest in the ground. Identify and protect these sites from disturbance,” Roos says.

NCDA&CS also recommends planting mustard and turnips in the fall for pollinators. When the crops bloom in early spring, they are a great resource for bees when not much else is available. During the growing season, additional options include sunflowers, yellow sweet clover, crimson clover and wildflower gardens. Buckwheat is also a good choice for the dry months.

Looking to the future, North Carolina’s agricultural research stations are already planting plots to perform pollinator population tests, determining what forages are most attractive to pollinators in North Carolina – efforts that will help keep the state a pollinator “paradise” for years to come.

This article was published in North Carolina Agriculture magazine | 2017.

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Big Business of Food

Big Business of Food

A variety of big food businesses call North Carolina home

In 1926, bumper crops of cucumbers were going to waste in Mount Olive. Determined to help the community, a local group of businesspeople established the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. It was an action that would benefit the town not only that year, but for decades to come – and make the community the state’s unofficial pickle capital.

“This is our 90th anniversary year,” says Lynn Williams, public relations manager at Mt. Olive Pickle Co. “We are the best-selling brand of pickles, peppers and relishes in U.S. grocery stores. I think the original founders of the company would be pleasantly surprised at where we are today.”

“Homegrown” by all definitions, the roots of Mt. Olive’s success run deep, dependent on many of the state’s natural advantages, including its subtropical climate, East Coast location and transportation networks. They also credit a strong working relationship with North Carolina State University (NCSU) since the 1940s.

This food business success story is just one of many for North Carolina, which is home to some of the nation’s best-known brands such as Smithfield Foods, Butterball and, of course, Mt. Olive.

North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler says there are numerous reasons why food businesses choose North Carolina, including its pro-business attitude, supportive resources like the Got To Be NC Agriculture branding program, and access to local, national and international markets.

“Another factor that makes North Carolina a great place to have a food business is access to capital. Our state continues to be a strong financial center,” he adds.


An economic feasibility study by the NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) estimates that the advancement of a Food Processing and Manufacturing Initiative could add nearly 38,000 jobs and $10.3 billion to North Carolina’s economic output in less than 10 years.

In April 2016, the Governor’s North Carolina Food Manufacturing Task Force released its final report identifying key recommendations for capitalizing on the state’s food manufacturing industry potential.

“The biggest takeaway is it’s a huge opportunity for our state economically. When we met last year, we added up to 2,200 new jobs and over $450 million invested in new or growing food manufacturing ventures,” explains Dr. Richard Linton, chair of the Food Manufacturing Task Force and dean of NCSU CALS.

As a heavy ag production state with over 80 commodities, food manufacturing can especially help create jobs in rural areas that are struggling from an economic standpoint. New jobs could be added in transportation, processing and manufacturing, packaging, and further distribution – all facets of jobs that are not in state presently.

To accomplish this, the report recommends building a coordinated network and team that can respond to these opportunities both proactively and reactively. This synergistic relationship includes partnerships between the Department of Commerce, NCDA&CS, NCSU and other academic institutions, and the lieutenant governor’s office – a group that can address the business, regulation, science and policy behind new business questions.

Recruitment and development of a food innovation center are also important pieces, helping foster community relationships, cost-saving measures and incentive programs, as well as workforce development and training.

“This is not a ‘should do’ for North Carolina but an absolute ‘must do’ if we are going to build our agriculture industry,” Linton says. “We can create a ‘bread basket’ for food manufacturing in the Southeast, and North Carolina is positioned better than any other state to accomplish this.”

Troxler notes that “even though the formal work of the task force has wrapped up, the conversations haven’t stopped, and that’s good.”

In fact, the state is already moving forward with several recommendations in the report, which is sure to attract even more food-related businesses to North Carolina in the future.

“It might sound funny to think of food as an ambassador for our state, but it’s happening,” Troxler says.

This article was published in North Carolina Agriculture magazine | 2017.

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Where the Cattle Roam

Where the Cattle Roam

Raising beef cattle is a family affair for some Georgia producers

According to Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, every year consumers spend more than half of their meat budgets on beef – making beef the “meat of choice” for consumers. As of 2016, beef cattle are raised in all 159 counties of Georgia, illustrating the state’s significant role in supporting consumer demand. But down on the farm, these animals influence more than just market prices. They indefinitely shape the lives of the families that care for them.


For Kristy Griffis Arnold, farming has always been in her blood. She grew up on a 465-acre farm in Wayne County that her grandfather, Julian Griffis, first purchased in 1941. Additionally, she was a member of 4-H and FFA clubs, and she showed cows for 13 years. So it came as no surprise when in 2006, she worked with her father to transition as owner and operator of Boggy Creek Farms.

Ten years later, she’s responsible for the well-being of their 350-head commercial Angus and crossbred herd, not counting the calves, and running their contract embryo calf operation. It’s more than a full-time job, she admits, and thankfully she doesn’t have to do it alone.

“My husband and children help whenever they’re home, doing chores around the farm. Under my dad’s wing I learned everything I know about operations, so I try to take my kids out with me and teach them,” she says.

Already, 11-year-old Kayle and 8-year-old Karson really enjoy showing livestock and being out on the farm. Like their mother, they show a deep-rooted passion working and caring for live animals. In her experience, Arnold has found that working on a farm teaches children to appreciate and value hard work, learn good morals and the value of family – principles that last for a lifetime.

“I see a lot of growth in our future, especially as more and more young folks get involved. I hope to see that continue to grow over the next decade,” she says.


Carolyn Gazda knows firsthand the positive influence derived out of farm life from raising two daughters, Katie and Taylor, to know the ins and outs of the cattle business.

“When the girls still lived on the farm, they were active in the everyday aspects of running the farm. About 90 percent of the heifers they showed while growing up were raised on the farm – many of them bred by the girls,” she says.

Now an adult, Katie has an ag communications degree from the University of Georgia and is executive director of the Georgia Farm Bureau Foundation. Taylor, also now an adult, has an ag communications degree from Oklahoma State University and is currently doing freelance livestock marketing and photography. However, both women still own cattle on the farm in Athens, and Gazda anticipates they’ll live on a farm again in the near future.

“Taylor had a heifer this year that a young lady in South Georgia showed and won ‘Reserve Champion Low Percentage Simmental’ at the Georgia Junior National Stock Show. The juniors are the future of the cattle industry, and that is very important to us,” Carolyn Gazda says.

Over the years, whether busy natural calving 22 Angus cows in a season or serving on the board of directors for the Georgia Angus Association, Gazda is proud to have kept the farm a family-run operation. She even has help from her 85-year-old father-in-law, who can still be found building fences, bush hogging and feeding livestock.

“Involvement in the cattle industry is full of ups and downs,” she says. “One day you can be on top of the world, the next struggling to keep a calf alive. It’s a way of life that gets in your blood. I can’t think of a better way to raise a family.”

This article was published in Georgia Grown magazine | 2016-17 (PDF) >>

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Farm-Sourced and Kid Approved

Farm-Sourced and Kid Approved

Farm-to-cafeteria opportunities make for healthier, happier students

Georgia is revolutionizing its school lunch system with a determination to keep kids healthy and fight the unsettling statistic that more than 37 percent of the state’s students are overweight or obese.

First launched in 2011, the Feed My School for a Week (FMS) program helps facilitate the adoption of healthier recipes in cafeterias, bridge the gap in nutritional foods being served, and promote food and agriculture awareness among schoolchildren. As of 2016, the program consists of 19 schools with each accepted school committing to three years, although many are participating longer and expanding to include additional schools within the district.

“Our mission for the FMS program, the 2020 Vision for School Nutrition and the Georgia Grown Test Kitchen is to help build relationships between farmers, food-service purveyors, schools and communities,” says Misty Friedman, school nutrition/farm- to-school coordinator, Georgia Department of Agriculture. “Through our work, we are able to connect the vested farm-to-school partners to bring more local, seasonal Georgia fruits and vegetables to all students across the state.”

Local blueberries, strawberries, apples, green beans, peaches, Satsuma oranges, collard greens, as well as numerous proteins like beef, poultry, pork, fish and shrimp are just a few of the fresh produce items making students eager to pick up their lunch trays.

“The realization of how agriculture touches your life on a daily basis has been very impactful on our students and teachers,” Friedman says.


Since starting FMS for the 2015-16 school year, Donna Martin, director of the school nutrition program for Burke County Board of Education, found that “FMS made Blakeney Elementary School get really excited about everything local. Our students and staff tried new foods that we’re putting on the menu this next school year like white acre and purple hull peas.”

Martin also observed that one of the most successful parts of the program was the support gained from the school itself, including integration into real-life curriculum.

“We loved watching not only our students enjoy new things, but our teachers and staff were incredibly fired up, too,” she says “Additionally, we were able to continue working with a few of the farmers on a regular basis for our school meals.”

The positive outcomes of the school’s participation in FMS have been contagious, leading nearby systems and businesses to start buying local, further supporting local farmers and Georgia’s economy.


Although another first-year FMS participant for the 2015-16 school year, South Jackson Elementary School has long been the cornerstone for farm-to-school activities in the county. The difference was FMS took a lot of activities to new heights including more events and hands-on opportunities, explains Debra Morris, director of school nutrition for Jackson County Schools.

“When school first started, we purchased locally grown seeded watermelons to talk with kids about the watermelon process. Then, after the kids sliced up and de-seeded the watermelons, the pulp was used to make slushies,” she says.

Additional educational activities included handling and preparing vegetables in their natural state while learning about how these foods were grown. Morris witnessed how, the next day when these items were served, the children were more apt to try them because they wanted to taste the product they had handled.

“The kids are now excited to come to the cafeteria. We’ve had several guest visits including farmers and the Watermelon Queen. Kids can’t wait to see what new development each day holds,” she says.

For Morris, the success derived from these intimate food experiences has instilled the confidence to take the program to another school the following year. And just like the kids she serves, she’s excited to share FMS with more students throughout the county.

This article was published in Georgia Grown magazine | 2016-17 (PDF) >>

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Keeping it Real this Christmas

Keeping it Real this Christmas

Why not to feel guilty buying a live Christmas tree this holiday

Plus: Old and new trends in Michigan’s evergreen industry 

Michigan’s Christmas tree legacy starts with the Scotch Pine. Easy to grow on soils where other agricultural products struggled, this hardy pine has helped establish growers across the state.

From these small beginnings evolved a massive industry. According to USDA NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service), in 2013 Michigan Christmas trees sales were approximately 1.6 million, including 70,000 exports. Today, Michigan remains a leader in Christmas tree production on a large scale basis.


Under the umbrella of USDA, a new organization called the Christmas Tree Promotion Board is determined to keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in homes for the holidays. As part of the board’s efforts to further publicize the advantages of live versus fake trees, consumers will be seeing more of this catchy slogan: “It’s Christmas. Keep it Real.”

“It is very concerning that many people think an artificial tree is better for the environment. We were all taught to save trees, but the fallacy lies in that this is an agricultural product,” explains Marsha Gray, director of industry communications for the Christmas Tree Promotion Board and executive director, Michigan Christmas Tree Association.

“While the tree is growing it’s providing oxygen, clean air, wildlife habitat and helps stop soil erosion. Then when you’re done with it at the end of the season, it’s biodegradable. Trees can be recycled into mulch and even a few US cities are powered by waste wood, including Christmas trees.”

Fake trees, on the other hand, end up in landfills.

“By not buying a real tree, you’re not saving a tree. You’re putting a farmer out of business. These are family farms growing a product that is intended to be harvested and replanted.”


Jerry Peterson, past board member of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, has been selling choose-and-cut Christmas trees since 1988, even before opening Peterson’s Riverview Nursery in 1993. Fast forward to 2016 and the family operated business now grows 35,000 – 40,000 Christmas trees at one time on the farm, with close to 50 acres devoted to production.

With the average growing time of a Christmas tree taking seven years, not forgetting trimming and pruning each year, the commitment is not one taken lightly by growers. For Peterson, his continued enthusiasm is rooted deeply in customer satisfaction.

“The customers coming out to the farm to purchase trees are always in a good mood, which makes us feel happy knowing that our product is something that gives people so much enjoyment.”

Michigan is able to grow more different species of Christmas trees than any other state thanks to a moderate climate and well-drained soils, however the Peterson’s remain dedicated to Fraser Firs.

“Fraser Firs are one of the more challenging Christmas trees to grow, but they are in high demand and command a better price. Customers enjoy them for their excellent needle retention, dark green color, and pleasant fragrance.”

Taking great pride in supplying such high quality trees, the Peterson’s nursery has become a staple in the industry, serving the Midwest and beyond.


To ensure U.S. soldiers and their families enjoy a farm-fresh Christmas tree for the holidays, Michigan has proudly supported Trees for Troops since its inception in 2005. Each year Michigan’s Christmas tree growers have donated more than 1,000 trees to support the program, which has brightened Christmas for over 122,000 families at more than 65 military bases worldwide.

Peacock Road Tree Farm is just one of several offering customers the opportunity to also get involved and buy additional trees – making Trees for Troops one of Michigan’s new holiday traditions.


  • Eighty percent (80%) of artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
  • The plastic material (PVC) that most artificial Christmas trees are made of, can be a potential source of hazardous lead.
  • Overloaded electrical outlets and faulty wires are the most common causes of holiday fires in residences – these are just as likely to affect artificial trees as real trees.
  • Fake trees were invented by a company who made toilet bowl brushes, the Addis Brush Company.


  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
  • There are more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States.
  • There are about 350,000 acres in production for growing Christmas Trees in the U.S.; much of it preserving green space.
  • There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.
  • There are close to 350 million real Christmas trees currently growing on Christmas Tree farms in the U.S. alone, all planted by farmers.

*Sourced from

This is a sneak peak of the article to be published in Michigan Agriculture magazine | 2017


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Oregon Takes a Natural Approach

Oregon Takes a Natural Approach

Naturopathic companies serve a growing need

Oregon is a hotbed of naturopathic products and health supplements. A distinct, alternative approach to health, naturopathy focuses on a natural approach of healing the body, usually employing the use of botanical medicines, homeopathic products, a focus on natural foods and more.

Using plant-based medicine to nourish and heal bodies is simply a way of life for many health-conscious consumers. And as interest in these types of products has grown, so have Oregon-based companies that are producing them.


In 1994, Randy Buresh and his wife co-founded Oregon’s Wild Harvest (OWH), a grower and manufacturer of U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic herbal supplements. Today, this family-run company, which includes son Adam Buresh, is operating across multiple farms, taking advantage of Oregon’s varying climate to produce dozens of varieties of medicinal plants. “Our mission is to nurture healthy soil and clean water, save and replant our non-GMO seeds, and produce pure, potent and healthy herbal supplements,” Buresh says.

To accomplish this, OWH practices biodynamic methods or “regenerative farming,” leaving a smaller carbon footprint. OWH focuses on producing herb products and extracts, such as nettle, skullcap, holy basil and more, that are free of chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs.

“The health of our land is directly connected to the health of our plants, which are connected to the quality of our herbal products and health of our customers,” Buresh says. “Our hands-on, closed-loop approach gives us maximum control over the identity, quality, potency and safety of all our ingredients, every step of the way.”


Similarly at The Eclectic Institute, co-founded in 1982 by Dr. Ed Alstat, every step of the process from farm to bottle is handled in-house. The Eclectic Institute started freeze-drying herbs in the late 1980s. Then, in 1990, it began to use organic non- grain alcohol for consumers with gluten sensitivity.

“Different than other herb companies, our herbs need to be fresh for freeze drying so we try to grow as much as we can ourselves,” explains Christine Alstat, co-owner. “One of the advantages to this is the ability to grow unusual or genetically unique plants that are not generally available on the open market.”

For example, the farm yields four varieties of echinacea, which all hold different medicinal properties.

“Also, in contrast to some types of agricultural farms that practice mono-cropping, we leverage the benefits of biodiversity by growing a wide variety of plants that thrive in the climate of the Willamette Valley,” like native ornamental flower species and cover crops to attract pollinators.


Known as a “super fruit,” black raspberries grow in Oregon’s own backyard. With Oregon as the No. 1 producer in the U.S. of black raspberries, it’s no wonder that BerriHealth, based in Corvallis, carefully cultivates the crop, creating products and testing its benefits.

BerriHealth was founded in 2009 by Steve Dunfield with leading scientists in order to supply U.S. medical research with high-quality black raspberries at Ohio State University. Since then, many other national and international medical research institutes have used the company’s black raspberry products to advance medical research.

Oregon black raspberries are also being studied in the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea for the potential to help with cancer prevention and inhibition, as well as improving cardiovascular function.

The keystone to BerriHealth’s success is Sturm’s Berry Farm in Corbett, a fourth-generation family farm with 70 years of experience growing this fickle berry using ecological farming methods. From selecting cultivars to soil conditions, harvest timing and preserving, the entire berry process must be controlled to guarantee quality and consistency.

“Our unique location in Oregon and our partnership with a wonderful family farm gives us a unique advantage by providing us with the highest-quality black raspberries,” says Dunfield, president of BerriHealth. “We are excited about sharing our healthy berry products with the world.”

This article was published in Growing Oregon magazine | 2017 (PDF) >>

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Grown Locally, Praised Globally

Grown Locally, Praised Globally

Successful trade missions prove future export growth potential for North Dakota

With an innovative and resourceful spirit, North Dakota farmers are determined to feed the nation – and the world. Taking advantage of the state’s natural landscape and climate, producers have found success producing over 50 different agricultural commodities commercially, attracting interest from overseas markets.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), North Dakota’s ag exports (tracked sales, not bulk sales) totaled $4.5 billion in 2014 with dry beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, food-grade soybeans and flax making the largest sales. The state also ranks second nationwide in whole soybean exports.

Overall, the state ranks eighth in ag exports nationally but “No. 1 in U.S. production of wheat, dry edible beans, durum, barley, dry edible peas, canola, flaxseed and honey,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says.

Topping these accolades, however, is the fact that North Dakota has significantly expanded its export footprint over the years and shows no signs of slowing down.

“About 10 years ago, we were exporting to 63 countries. As of 2015, we’re exporting to 83 countries. Every market we pick up makes a difference, providing economic and food security. We don’t walk in to make a sale and leave. It’s a two-way street and there are ways we all benefit. We want to build and keep relationships.”


North Dakota’s reputation for high-quality food products is no secret.

“If someone in the world is looking at buying pulse crops from the U.S., there’s a high probability it’s coming from North Dakota,” confirms Dean Gorder, executive director, North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO). The same goes for niche commodities like canola and sunflower. “Or if you’re eating bean sprouts in Korea, chances are they originated in North Dakota.”

Korea is also a huge market for buckwheat where the hulls are used to make pillows. Meanwhile, local soybean exports are supporting the production of natto, a fermented soy dish from Japan, as well as soymilk and tofu across Asian markets. Ag machinery is headed to China, and cutting-edge technology like unmanned aerial vehicles and systems for precision agriculture is piquing interest in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

As the International Year of Pulses continues, Gorder has noticed rising demand for pinto, navy, black turtle, and cranberry beans in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Additionally, while countries like Egypt, Angola and Colombia have been traditionally high in pulse sales, the Philippines has recently reached out to NDTO to meet growing consumer demand.


Led by Goehring in February 2016, the state’s first trade mission to India was deemed a success by producers in attendance like SB&B Foods, a family-owned agribusiness exporting food grade crops for 27 years. Presently, SB&B’s largest volume of exports is food-grade soybeans shipping to 15 different countries.

The turnout of interested Indian manufacturers not only doubled expectations, but, “SB&B, along with other North Dakota soybean suppliers, will be shipping five containers of soybeans into India that can be distributed throughout the country as samples. This is the very first export of U.S. soybeans to India. It’s historic,” says Bob Sinner, president, owner and partner of SB&B Foods.

As of 2014, India was North Dakota’s eighth largest export market with exports valued at $35 million in 2014 – a 20 percent increase over 2013. With 1.3 billion people and the largest GDP growth in Asia, future trade agreements hold immeasurable potential for the agriculture industry.


After a trade mission to Cuba in late 2015, North Dakota is prepared to meet many of the country’s import needs, including wheat and dry beans.

“If they are going to do business in the U.S., they’re coming to North Dakota because we are the biggest producer of these products,” says Goehring. “The goal is not to replace food in their food system, but to enhance their food system with North Dakota products and technology.”

In the coming years, thanks to the state’s pro-trade, export-focused infrastructure, the agro-industry can count on exponential trade growth.

For Goehring, the plan is simple: “Ninety-six percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of buying power in the world exists outside U.S. borders.”

And where you find agricultural trade growth, that’s where you’ll find North Dakota.

This article was published in North Dakota Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>

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