According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, North Carolina’s agriculture industry is a $92.7 billion industry that employs 17% of the state’s workforce. While agriculture has always been a major economic engine for the state, it’s seen a surge in growth — more than $20 billion — during the past decade.
Under Golden LEAF’s recently adopted strategic plan, the Board of Directors has prioritized increasing the value of North Carolina’s agriculture industry.
The agriculture industry impacts all areas of the state through production, processing, and distribution of agriculture products. Golden LEAF is working on an integrated, strategic approach to identify future agricultural opportunities.
Golden LEAF’s mission includes leadership in collaboration, making Golden LEAF the ideal entity to spark an integrated and strategic state-level approach to maximizing the potential of North Carolina’s agriculture industry. Another goal under the agriculture funding priority is to increase agricultural opportunities for farmers and those in the agricultural industry to have greater access to resources to increase their production and revenues. Rural and tobacco-dependent places see greater benefits from value-added agriculture operations and increased output.
Golden LEAF seeks to build upon its history of helping farmers increase production and develop more profitable crops and helping communities attract value-added facilities. Strategies to accomplish this goal include investing in research to support and expand agriculture production, supporting projects that increase agriculture output and value-added agriculture, and increasing agricultural exports.
In order to measure the success of an agriculture project, Golden LEAF tracks outcomes such as the number of participants at agricultural trainings, new publications directed towards farmers, and monthly use of agricultural facilities that benefit farmers.
Read about some of the successful projects funded under the funding priority of agriculture:
Wilkes Agricultural Equipment Rental Program
In August 2019, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded $63,000 to Wilkes Economic Development Corporation to assist young farmers in Wilkes, Surry, Yadkin, Iredell, Caldwell, and Alexander County, who are often challenged with continuing farming due to lack of access to or the high cost of owning equipment required to operate and maintain their farms. Wilkes EDC, along with the Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association, addressed this need via an equipment rental program. Input from the Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association and a needs assessment were used to identify four equipment items of most benefit to small local farmers raising crops and animals.
Wilkes EDC had already operated an equipment leasing program for several years and demonstrated that local farmers use the equipment available to them. The rental fees are enough to cover the costs of maintaining and insuring the equipment. The equipment acquired with Golden LEAF funding supplements the equipment that the Wilkes EDC previously offered for rent. Wilkes EDC and the Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association funding was used for the transportation of the equipment purchased with Golden LEAF funding.
This award led to farmers renting needed equipment through the program 42 times, and 23 new farmers taking advantage of the program in 2020. Farmers are continuing to use the equipment. Golden LEAF supported this project to encourage young farmers to continue to farm in these rural counties. By providing access to costly equipment, this project creates more opportunities for farmers to improve their operations.
Establishment of a Long Term Research Site for Management Studies of the Guava Root-Knot Nematode in North Carolina Agriculture
The Guava root-knot nematode (GRKN) is an invasive and aggressive soilborne pathogen that overcomes crop resistance and traditional control methods. GRKN is of particular concern to the sweet potato industry and threatens 104,700 harvested acres of sweet potatoes valued at $391 million. Multifaceted research into the management of GRKN is needed to investigate solutions, yet fields with high GRKN populations suitable for research are difficult to locate on private farms.
In August 2020, the Golden LEAF Board awarded North Carolina State University $76,000 to establish a contained research farm site infested with GRKN at the Border Belt Tobacco Research Station in Columbus County. The site allows for management studies and the ability to screen sweet potato, soybean, tobacco, and vegetable cultivars for GRKN resistance under field conditions. Golden LEAF funding was used for construction and equipment. North Carolina State University also provided $86,000 for the project.
Golden LEAF supported this project because it increases knowledge around a significant issue facing production of sweet potatoes, which are one of North Carolina’s leading crops, and allows research into strategies to respond to the GRKN challenge. This research will give sweet potato farmers the information needed to combat the pathogen.
Expansion of Advanced Agricultural Training in Montgomery County
In June 2020, the Golden LEAF Board awarded Montgomery Community College $375,000 to help develop an agriculture program to train current and future growers with best farming and farm-business practices, advanced technologies, and sustainable farming techniques. In addition to courses related to traditional horticulture and animal husbandry, the program also teaches how to extend crop growing season, increase yields, and reduce loss through greenhouse production and high tunnel applications. The college also uses these facilities to share information with current farmers.
Montgomery Community College has 1+3 and 2+2 agreements with both N.C. State and N.C. A&T University that allows students to pursue a four-year agriculture degree. Montgomery Community College also collaborates closely with the country’s sole high school, which is located adjacent to the college. The high school has a growing FFA program and MCC recently opened a new career and technical education (CTE) center.
Golden LEAF funds were used to construct a greenhouse and high-tunnel and for equipment and instructional supplies. Golden LEAF supported this project because it enhances the agriculture workforce by providing certificate, diploma, and degree programs in agriculture-related programs and provides exposure to local agriculture career opportunities for college and high school students. The project also helps current farmers by hosting training opportunities and field days.
College of Agriculture & Environmental Science Industrial Hemp Pilot Program
In August 2018, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $150,000 to North Carolina Agriculture & Technology State University’s (NCA&T) to support outreach and education regarding the risks and benefits of growing industrial hemp in North Carolina, including related marketing and regulatory issues. NCA&T offered industrial hemp workshops across the state and sessions on industrial hemp at field days. The project also trained Cooperative Extension agents to be able to respond to questions about hemp in their counties.
Golden LEAF supported this project as it increased knowledge around a new crop that generated significant interest as having the potential to be a profitable crop for North Carolina’s agriculture industry but also provided information to farmers about the possible costs and risks of growing hemp. This information helps farmers make an informed decision about whether to grow hemp on their farms.
Golden LEAF supports agriculture projects with focuses such as research, training, and increased capacity for farmers. Characteristics of strong proposals include leveraging awards from other funders, providing farmers access to new markets, conducting applied research that addresses an immediate challenge facing farmers, and sustainability.