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Beyond the Periodic Table

Beyond the Periodic Table

Biodiesel project changes students’ perceptions of agriculture

A native of Fenton, Missouri, Darrin Peters didn’t grow up on a farm or study agriculture in school. But now, as the teacher of real-world application chemistry classes at Rockwood Summit High School, he has earned a reputation as an outstanding advocate for the field.

REAL-LIFE CONNECTION

It all started when one of Peters’ students asked to make biodiesel in lab. Through the process, the students learned more about where food and fuel comes from, and decided to test quality of the fuel sample through the University of Connecticut, yielding positive results.

“This success motivated my students like nothing I have seen in my career,” remembers Peters. “Students began to ask me, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own processor to make biodiesel for a truck?’ And I agreed that it would.”

Through Peters’ leadership, they formed an after- school club and sought grants to expand their biodiesel projects beyond the classroom. It also gave students another option for after-school activities.

Then in 2015, the students’ pursuit for knowledge in agricultural sciences got another boost. A lab project, which started with recycling the school cafeteria’s waste oil into biodiesel and glycerin, expanded to planting soybeans on school grounds with local farmers, including help from longtime agricultural leader and soybean farmer Warren Stemme.

Reflecting back on his involvement, Stemme “hopes students learned that growing a crop, like soybeans, is weather-dependent and that there are very small windows of opportunity in which the crop can be planted, nurtured and harvested for the optimum yield potential.”

Stemme also took students on a tour of the Mid-America Biofuels plant in Mexico, Missouri, to show that the school’s small-scale biodiesel project really does work on a large, commercial-scale basis.

“We wanted to show students that we are continually tweaking the process of making biodiesel to have the highest-quality, lowest production cost product available. We also face production challenges that we must address, just as students did with their project,” says Stemme.

To bring the biodiesel project full circle, Peters brought a small-scale soybean crusher to school when it was harvest time.

“This showed kids how soybeans have to be pressed into protein meal before they can be used to feed livestock. The byproduct of the meal is soybean oil (vegetable oil) which we chemically convert into biodiesel,” explains Peters.

Thanks to a grant, when students finished making the fuel, they were able to test it out in a 1991 Dodge Ram. The glycerin was made into soap and sold to automotive shops in the community.

THE PROJECT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

With plans to continue to expand the students’ crop space, Peters says the biodiesel project at Rockwood Summit is constantly evolving and improving.

“This coming school year (2017-18), we’ll collect waste vegetable oil from Washington University, convert it into biodiesel and sell it back to Washington University as a B50 blend,” he says. “I feel American agriculture is the best in the world and that many unknown opportunities could be cultivated through the sciences of agriculture, organic chemistry and biochemistry.”

Looking to the future, Stemme is also committed to providing assistance as an “ag connection” for as long as the program continues.

“One idea I have is for the students to travel to Jefferson City to learn about the legislative process at the state capitol, and help promote agriculture and renewable fuels like biodiesel to urban legislators. This would also have a great impact on urban legislators, when they are faced with decisions on how to vote on ag issues.”

What started as a simple experimental lab project is now a stepping stone – an opportunity to connect young people with agriculture through meaningful dialogue.

This article was published in Missouri Agriculture magazine | 2017-18.

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Poultry Powerhouse

Poultry Powerhouse

Poultry processors boost the state’s thriving chicken, turkey industries

Wisconsin is where key poultry businesses find the resources necessary for future growth and success. Leading the way are companies like Jennie-O Turkey Store, a recognized leader in turkey processing with a plant located in Barron; Brakebush Brothers Inc., a Westfield processor of value-added chicken products; and Gold’n Plump, a business unit of Pilgrim’s with a chicken processing plant in Arcadia.

By following the forward-thinking vision of their founders, and utilizing local resources and innovative strategy, these businesses have found a unique advantage: the ability to produce high-quality products while advancing the community at large, a win-win all around.

THE PEOPLE FACTOR

“Jennie-O Turkey Store supports local farmers by purchasing 6.2 million bushels of corn and nearly 83,000 tons of soybean meal used to produce our turkey feed. As the largest employer in northwestern Wisconsin, we employ approximately 1,800 people in the area,” says Brent Koosmann, Jennie-O’s director of marketing.

These diverse team members are not only active contributors within the company, but in their communities as well. Jennie-O takes pride in giving back to the community, a core value defining how it operates today.

“It is our belief that by supporting our local communities through donations and participation, we are helping to build a stronger and successful future for all,” Koosmann says.

This support includes investing in local schools, food help, and community and civic organizations. In 2016, Jennie-O made 185 donations to nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin, including around 18,000 pounds of product for hunger relief efforts.

As the largest employer in Marquette County and a major employer within a 50-mile radius that spans 11 counties, Brakebush provides jobs to over 900 employees in Westfield.

Carl Brakebush, chairman of the board, explains that one of the company’s greatest assets is “the people aspect, including the different cultures and work ethic of our Wisconsin citizens. A lot of chicken companies are being purchased by foreign companies, but we are proud to be U.S. family-owned and -operated.” Further exemplifying this, Brakebush is expanding and adding 90,000 square feet to its Westfield facility, with completion expected in November 2017.

“We are growing and planning to hire more people at Westfield,” adds Steve Ross, marketing manager. “When Brakebush started, it started on relationships, and it continues that way 90 years later.”

THE INNOVATION FACTOR

Continuing the path set by its founding visionaries, innovation begets tradition at Jennie-O and Brakebush.

For Jennie-O, there’s always been a strong commitment to leadership in innovation, and it’s a process that involves the entire team.

However, the innovation process for both companies goes beyond product development and marketing. It also includes continuous improvements at farms and plants. Brakebush’s state-of-the-art computerized poultry processing plants hold multiple production lines with impressive capacities ranging from 5,000 to over 12,000 pounds per hour.

Additionally, recent investments into two new facilities, along with the well-established Brakebush Transportation truck fleet, has allowed the company to meet the ever-changing needs of its customers.

THE QUALITY FACTOR

In recent years, the poultry industry has been hit by a new definition of quality from consumers who are interested in hot-button issues like animal welfare.

Recognizing this important trend, some of the chicken Brakebush purchases is raised without antibiotics and is American Humane CertifiedTM.

Similarly, Jennie-O’s and Gold’n Plump’s experienced production and veterinary teams follow strict measures to ensure the optimum health of their flocks.

All things considered, looking out for the best interests of customers and their communities isn’t a requirement, but for Wisconsin’s poultry companies, it’s just part of the package.

This article was published in Growing Wisconsin magazine | 2017-18.

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Protein For All

Protein For All

Oklahoma FFA members donate beef and pork to feed hungry students

The Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs have been a huge success by any measure, putting healthy beef and pork protein sticks in the backpacks of thousands of chronically hungry elementary school students across the state.

As part of these programs, the Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation takes donated cattle and hogs to produce the beef and pork sticks. These protein sticks have become a consistent, local source of food for kids struggling with hunger thanks to a collaboration between the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Beef Council, Oklahoma Pork Council, Oklahoma State University’s Food and Agricultural Products Center, Ralph’s Packing Company in Perkins and Chickasha Meats.

“MEATING” A NEED

The programs foster relationships with local farmers, food manufacturers and food processors to give the food sticks to Oklahoma children in need. During the 2016-17 school year, backpacks provided food for more than 29,000-plus schoolchildren.

The protein sticks are distributed through the Food Bank’s Food for Kids program, run by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Since 2003, the Food for Kids program has helped fill the hunger gap on weekends and holidays by giving food when the school lunch program is unavailable.

To help sustain the Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs, the Oklahoma FFA Association has issued a challenge each year to donate animals or cash to the cause through its Hunger Challenge. In 2017, members of 226 Oklahoma FFA chapters donated 540 cattle and hogs and money that helped make over 1 million protein sticks for the programs.

“Our goal, as set forth by our state officers, is to be able to provide a million protein sticks for the food banks,” says Jack Staats, state program administrator and state FFA advisor.

To accomplish this, Staats says, “FFA members are taking an active part in their local chapters and in the animal ag industry, as well as communicating with fellow students on the benefits of the Hunger Challenge program and the rewards it possesses.”

FFA chapters raise thousands of dollars, which is matched by the Oklahoma Beef Council to help make the protein sticks.

A SENSE OF AWARENESS

According to Staats, FFA’s Hunger Challenge instills the ideals of community service and agriculture awareness – a priceless moral foundation that endures a lifetime.

“This program has not only brought the hunger issue to the forefront of students’ perception, but to adults as well,” he says.

This awareness is apparent in the dedication of volunteers such as Thad Doye of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, who spent countless hours transporting donated cattle and hogs across the state to make the Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs successful.

Doye’s commitment stems from seeing “so many kids motivated to donate their animals to the cause, because they don’t want to see other kids go hungry – and often, it’s their peers. I hope these kids learn that somebody always has to step up and take care of others. As agriculturalists, we need to make sure everyone has something to eat. This is a good cause for agriculture.”

Staats encourages others to join the cause by contacting a local agricultural education or FFA program instructor today.

“We have so much to be grateful for regarding our young people,” he says.

This article was published in Oklahoma Agriculture magazine | 2017.

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Fit to Feed a King

Fit to Feed a King

Montana State Grain Lab ensures top-quality grains, pulses, oilseeds and more

Across the fruited plains of Big Sky Country grow a powerful number of different commodities. From cereals and pulses to oilseeds and specialty crops, the state produces an impressive variety of crops reaching dinner tables around the world.

But first, the Montana State Grain Laboratory – the only federally licensed crop quality testing facility in the state – meticulously inspects these commodities, ensuring they are fit to feed a king.

A GRAIN OF TRUTH

Grain inspection plays a critical role in establishing the value of the crop. However, grain labs do not determine price – just quality – providing buyers and sellers with unbiased analysis.

Crop delivered to Montana’s State Grain Lab in Great Falls and Plentywood undergo a protein analysis and a handful of other quality tests before given an official grade. To guarantee the best analytical results, all records, equipment and procedures are available for federal examination including accreditation from the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) every three years.

“The FGIS Auditor reviews our overall performance compliance rating, which was recently completed in October 2016,” says Bureau Chief Greg Stordahl of Montana’s State Grain Lab. “Montana’s overall performance score for designation criteria is 92 percent.”

Accuracy is also assured by sending national and local samples to other grain labs.

“We should all be grading the same way compared to other states and agencies,” Stordahl adds, referring to frequent collaboration with other states’ grain labs.

Montana helps neighbors like North Dakota and Washington state by testing grains for mycotoxins (molds), and California sends between 500 to 700 samples of khorasan, an ancient wheat trademarked around the world as kamut.

“We are one of the main labs for khorasan sampling and even receive samples from Europe,” Stordahl says. “Canadian commodities also come to the lab to be graded. We are very active all over.”

In addition to issuing export certificates, international trade teams frequently visit to see the lab operate.

“It’s important to show what we look for, how tedious our process is and, ultimately, what they are buying,” Stordahl says. “At the same time, visitors are looking at how to improve their standards.”

These visits are critical to the buying and selling of Montana’s commodities internationally.

Grain handling and weather conditions are consistently the top two issues impacting quality – one controllable, the other not.

“We can’t help the farmer with weather conditions, but our biggest recommendation for accurate grading is getting a representative sample,” Stordahl says.

Crops are analyzed for a variety of factors, including but not limited to: dockage, moisture, infestation, odor, temperature and foreign material. Issues resulting in a significant drop in quality, most commonly from a Grade 1 to Grade 2, differ by commodity.

For example, wheat is most affected by test weight and shrunken and broken factors. For dry peas, it’s cracked seed coat or chalky damage. Chickpeas suffer most from green damage and splits, whereas lentils get degraded most for insect damage and quality of color and appearance.

Before submitting samples, growers are encouraged to review Montana’s grading standards at agr.mt.gov/state-grain-lab.

CHANGING THE GAME
The lab has recently had a surge in sample testing. As of harvest time in fiscal year 2016, the lab tested more than 15,460 official and submitted samples over a three-month period. That number rose to more than 26,180 during the same three-month period of fiscal year 2017 (which began in October 2016).

“We are already set to surpass last year’s overall numbers,” Stordahl says.

The lab has also gained almost 80 new customers. Reasons for this surge are new food trends, and improved production and research.

“We have experienced a 10 to 15 percent increase in pulse crop inspections,” Stordahl says. “Official inspection has had a more drastic effect – a 70 percent increase,” as pulses (unlike wheat) must be officially graded before leaving the state.

This heightened demand for top quality pulses will continue to boost Montana grain sales and business at the lab into the foreseeable future.

This article was published in Grown in Montana magazine | 2017.

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Bred for Success

Bred for Success

Famous Virginia farm animals lead by example

As the producers of some of the nation’s best ag animals, Virginians have a reason to be proud. Bred for success and nurtured to excellence, the following famous farm animals have not only contributed to local agriculture, but impacted American culture and society for the better.

SECRETARIAT

Named by ESPN as one of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century, Secretariat enjoyed humble beginnings before winning the Triple Crown in 1973. Loved by millions, this American Thoroughbred racehorse received the best attention and care while growing up on the fertile pastures known as “The Meadow” in Caroline County – a foundation critical to his future success.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that before Secretariat was the superstar, there were several very important Thoroughbreds and broodmares raised on The Meadow that became some of the most famous horses in racing history,” says Leeanne Ladin, author of Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend and tourism manager at The Meadow Event Park.

Considering the long tradition of horses in Virginia, it’s no coincidence that Virginia has bred some of the most important horses in all of history.

“In fact, Secretariat’s pedigree can be traced back to some of those earliest horses, and since he sired 653 foals, his bloodline continues to win races to this day,” Ladin says.

One of Secretariat’s oldest living sons, Innkeeper, beat future Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold before retiring to stud. Today, as one of the few Thoroughbred stallions approved for breeding in sport horse registries, he’s enjoying his retirement in the pastoral setting at Virginia Tech’s Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MARE Center).

“Innkeeper is an extremely versatile and accomplished stallion. He is instrumental in teaching the next generation of students about careers in the equine industry,” Dr. Bridgett McIntosh of MARE Center says.

Other famous descendants still residing in Virginia include Covert Action, another retired racer living at James River Correctional Facility; ATM Machine, a frequent visitor at the state fair; and Groundshaker, soon to be boarded at The Meadow Event Park.

“People love to touch a living link to the greatest racehorse ever,” Ladin says. “There have only been 12 Triple Crown winners in history, and Secretariat is the only one that broke all three track records that still stand 43 years later. His bloodline will continue to influence the breed for the foreseeable future.”

ROUND OAK RAG APPLE ELEVATION

One of the most influential artificial insemination Holstein Friesian cattle bulls of the 20th century, Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation was born in Loudoun County. He was the first Holstein sire to have 10,000 registered sons and more than 600 sons by artificial insemination – gaining him international acclaim.

By 1982, Elevation had more than 200 daughters producing 30,000 pounds of milk (in one lactation of 365 days or less). Then, in 1984, Elevation had 54,843 daughters on test, setting a new world record. That same year, he also sired 2,862 Excellent daughters. The score “Excellent” is the highest classification a Holstein can receive under the Holstein Association USDA, a system that can help farmers make breeding or marketing decisions.

Today, it’s estimated that Elevation has more than 100,000 registered Holsteins internationally, and more than 95 percent of all Holstein animals worldwide can trace their bloodline back to him.

One of his estimated 9 million offspring living today, Brookfield Elevation Pretty, was named one of the Virginia Holstein Association’s Cows of the Century (2016) in addition to being Grand Champion of numerous Virginia Holstein Shows and state fairs.

HARVUE ROY FROSTY

A famous Holstein dairy cow from Clark County, Harvue Roy Frosty has acquired an impressive show record, most recently All World 2010 Holstein International, Supreme Champion World Dairy Expo 2010 and All-American Aged Cow 2010. She has also produced 10 Excellent daughters and 18 Very Good daughters.

With milk’s important economic impact to the state, Frosty is sure to continue to attract attention and the admiration of Virginians for years to come.

This article was published in Virginia Agriculture magazine | 2017.

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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.

COWLAR – THE SMART COLLAR FOR COWS
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.

SKYCISION – PRECISION AGRICULTURE SOLUTIONS
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.

FALCON RIDGE FARM
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.

APPLE VALLEY ORCHARD
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 picktnproducts.org 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.

A PROACTIVE, EDUCATIONAL APPROACH

“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.”

PROTECTING PEOPLE AND 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.

FIELDWATCH: SPREADING THE BUZZ

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.”

DESIGNING A POLLINATOR PARADISE

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.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

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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