Wilkes County farmers increase profits thanks to innovative programs

Agriculture is a top employer in Wilkes County, with 22 percent of the county’s jobs in agriculture, according to John Cothren, Wilkes County N.C. State Agriculture Extension Agent. Wilkes County ranks second in broiler chicken production, second in hay production, and third in all cattle production.

Golden LEAF funds have supported two programs that have helped Wilkes County farmers increase their profits: a genetic improvement program and equipment rental program that have together resulted in 225 equipment rentals, 11,250 animals processed, and 500 acres of farmland supported. Golden LEAF funding leveraged support from the Cattlemen’s Association and Wilkes Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

“Producers utilizing the equipment for routine management practices have reported a $25 average increase per animal and $15 per acre totaling $288,750 in potential extra profits for the producers,” said Robin Hamby, Vice President of Wilkes EDC. “Agriculture is important in Wilkes County, and this program ensures sustainability for our farmers to continue to grow this sector of our economy. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Golden LEAF on these programs.”

In August 2013, Wilkes EDC was awarded $45,000, in collaboration with the Cooperative Extension, to support the establishment of a cost-share genetic improvement program to boost the profitability of local cattle producers. The program created a controlled breeding effort that enhances the weight, physical frame, and disposition of calves. This program also included education for producers and the equipment needed to support the project.

Dereck Goddard of Goddard Family Farms participated in the program to increase the value of his cattle.

“Producers who have only about 50 head of cattle cannot afford a bull with superior genes,” said Goddard. “The program provides producers with access to a bull with predictable traits. It increases the quality and value of our brood cows, and at the end of the day, it improves the herd. Each generation of cattle is a better generation.”

Goddard said the Wilkes EDC, Extension Office, and the Cattlemen’s Association provide tremendous support to area producers.

“This is an innovative program,” said Goddard. “The corral and portable squeeze shoot are invaluable pieces of equipment. It helps producers with profit because renting is cheaper than building the needed facilities.”

Goddard was particularly grateful for Golden LEAF’s support of Wilkes County farmers.

“I appreciate Golden LEAF having a commitment to rural lifestyles and rural economies,” said Goddard. “Helping farmers transition from tobacco to new forms of farming, combating disappearing farms, is important. These innovative programs will help keep farmers in business by helping them be profitable.”

After the genetic improvement program was so successful, Wilkes EDC applied for and received $63,000 from Golden LEAF in 2019 to assist young farmers who are often challenged with continuing farming due to lack of access to and the high cost of owning equipment required to maintain their farms.

“This program supports agriculture as a way of life in Wilkes County, helps existing farmers who are challenged when buying expensive farm equipment, and provides support to those who are considering agriculture as a career,” said Cothren. “It has helped strengthen farmer relationships with the extension office, which provides further education and is an ongoing resource to farmers. This program has allowed me to establish relationships with producers not only in Wilkes County but surrounding counties as well.”

Equipment purchased in fall 2019 has so far been rented 30 times, supporting 1,250 animals and 640 acres of farmland.

“These programs are improving the quality of livestock and crops in our area,” said Cothren. “It’s changing lives.”

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