FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 22, 2003
CONTACT: J. Kent Messick
Field Services Section Chief, Agronomic Division
Good advice offers grower a second chance
SYLVA—Doyle Mull is now his own boss. After years of working at a garden center for someone else, Mull is managing Happy Valley Farm, a 3,500-square-foot tomato greenhouse in Jackson County. He'll tell you he didn't do it alone. He had help and good advice from people he trusts . . . people like regional agronomist Bill Yarborough.
Yarborough did some brainstorming with Mull last February, when Mull found out the garden center where he worked was being sold to new owners who wouldn't be keeping the existing staff. Mull, already in his fifties, needed to quickly come up with a viable means of support.
As an employee of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), Yarborough works closely with farmers in a 10-county region in western North Carolina and knows the problems that growers in that area face. He has insight into what is likely to work and what probably won't. He knew that greenhouse tomatoes were successful in other parts of the state and there weren't any greenhouse tomatoes being grown in the N.C. mountain counties. Mull took the idea and ran with it.
Less than two months later, Mull had his business underway. With contacts from Yarborough, he visited tomato greenhouse operations in the eastern part of the state. He asked questions, took notes, went home, and put it all together.
"I've known people who've been in agriculture for years who don't try as hard or have the kind of success the Mulls have had," Yarborough said. "Doyle and his wife Janet have put together a state-of-the-art operation."
Mull installed a high efficiency, separated combustion heating system that brings air in and takes air out, thereby eliminating the possibility of ethylene gas buildup, which is harmful to tomatoes. He lets bees do the pollinating-a box of bees every eight to 10 weeks does the trick. He also uses NCDA&CS services-like plant tissue testing and solution analysis-to make absolutely sure his crop gets all the nutrients it needs.
"Yarborough suggested I take tissue samples and solution samples every two weeks," Mull said. "Solution analysis tells me whether the chemistry of my source water is okay and whether the fertilizer solution is supplying enough nutrients. Tissue analysis tells me whether plants are getting the nutrients.
"These tools have been real helpful in getting me started. I started out fertilizing by the book, but the tests showed that I needed to adjust levels of manganese, potassium, and iron."
Mull's plants were in the greenhouse by April and producing fruit by the fourth of July. They are expected to keep producing until the end of October. The longer season and improved quality give greenhouse tomatoes an edge over field-grown tomatoes.
Marketing is a big challenge with a new business, but Yarborough thinks the outlook is good. "There are a lot of high-end people here in the mountains that are willing to pay for a quality crop," he said.
As for his new venture, Mull is satisfied. "It's a lot of work, but I don't mind work," he said, "and I got my tax money out of Bill Yarborough this year. I couldn't have gotten all the information I needed anywhere else."
The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division's Field Services section offers advice and assistance in all aspects of crop nutrient management and agronomic testing, including soil testing, nematode assay, and plant, waste or solution analysis. Growers in Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Swain, or Yancey counties can contact Bill Yarborough at (828) 456-3943 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Growers in other N.C. counties who would like advice on crop nutrition can visit the Web site www.ncagr.com/agronomi or contact Kent Messick at (919) 733-2655 for the name of their local regional agronomist.