Agronomic Services — News ReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2006
Contact: Bill Yarborough, Regional Agronomist
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
Family venture merges conventional and organic farming
FAIRVIEW—Amanda Sizemore loves to grow things. She followed her dream, earned a degree in horticulture and settled into a job with Cooperative Extension, but something was missing. She realized that what she really wanted to do was farm.
"I know other people who feel like I do," said Sizemore, "but they aren't as fortunate as I am. They don't have the resources. My father farms and has land, so I said, 'What's stopping me?'"
As it turns out, Sizemore is pretty much unstoppable. She got fired up about organic farming at the Carolina Farm Stewardship conference in Durham last fall and almost immediately began formulating a plan. In December, she decided to grow organic and sell retail. She spent the winter doing research—learning the rules, finding out where to get seeds and fertilizer, mapping out the gardens and developing a record book. By the end of May, she had completed the certification process for five acres and built a roadside store. In June, the first Cane Creek Valley Farm organic produce was available for sale.
Sounds easy, right? Don't fool yourself. Many who venture into organic farming find themselves facing a pretty big learning curve. Sizemore, however, is not your average beginner. She grew up on the farm. Her father Tony Nesbitt, and his father and grandfather before him, tilled the same tract of land. Sizemore has several very valuable assets that many aspiring farmers do not have—education, enthusiasm to delve into the requirements of organic production and her father's lifetime of experience and intimate knowledge of the land to lean on.
"In a world where organic and conventional farming are often at odds with each other, Sizemore and her father have shown that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive," said Bill Yarborough, regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "In fact, I would contend, they naturally complement each other. Organic farming has a firm foundation in conventional agronomic practices developed generations ago."
Yarborough has advised Nesbitt about nutrient issues related to dairy production for many years. Now he's advising Sizemore as well. He's encouraged by what he sees, and he'd like to see more organic and conventional farmers recognize their common ground.
"As a general rule, people face obstacles when they try organic production—not because they don't work hard enough but because they don't start with a sufficient knowledge base," said Yarborough. "Amanda has intelligence and great enthusiasm. She's capable and quick to research any topic. Her father contributes practical experience—the things that are not learned from a book, the things that are usually gleaned over time."
The five acres Sizemore started out with is already relatively large for an organic farm. However, if all goes well, she and her father hope to manage as many as 40 acres of organic produce eventually.
This year has been an experiment in many ways. Sizemore and Nesbitt planted a new garden every two weeks and grew more than 30 crops. It was enough to give Nesbitt nightmares about vegetables. Next year, the farm will limit itself to about ten crops.
The father-daughter team is also actively seeking wholesale markets. This summer, they sought out grocery stores, restaurants and food co-ops who might be interested in their produce. "We found places to sell everything," said Sizemore, "and now there's demand for a lot more."
This year, Sizemore fertilized her crops primarily with soybean meal. Drawing on her father's dairy experience, she plans to eventually make cow manure the farm's primary nutrient source. "Dad knows how and when to work the manure into the soil, and it helps that we have a never-ending supply," said Sizemore.
Although Cane Creek Valley Farm is off to a good start, it is very much a work in progress. There are still many details to be worked out. When it comes to nutrient-related issues, however, Sizemore follows her father's lead. He's familiar with the soil on the farm and how it can be improved. He relies on NCDA&CS Agronomic Division's testing services and the advice of Yarborough, the regional agronomist for his area.
Sizemore plans to maintain this connection. "Dad told me from the beginning that Bill Yarborough was the man to know. Now, after I read up on things, I call Bill to see if it's true. He's proven to be a good resource."
The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division's Field Services section has 13 regional agronomists stationed throughout North Carolina to offer advice and assistance in all aspects of crop nutrient management and agronomic testing. The agronomists can advise growers about the testing services available, sampling techniques and how to implement report recommendations. Agronomic Division services include soil testing for lime and fertilizer needs; waste analysis to determine nutrient content of animal manure and composted materials; nematode assay; identification of nutrient deficiencies through plant tissue testing; and evaluation of water quality for uses such as aquaculture, livestock watering, greenhouse nutrient solutions and irrigation.
As Sizemore moves closer to the goal of fertilizing Cane Creek Valley Farm vegetables with cow manure, she will be using waste analysis and soil testing on a routine basis. These tests make it possible to fertilize crops appropriately by knowing the levels of nutrients already present in the soil as well as the amounts available in the dairy waste to be applied. Laboratory analysis usually takes about two days for waste and plant tissue samples and about two weeks for soil samples. Soil testing, however, can take slightly longer during the winter busy season.
Information on Agronomic Division testing services—including how to collect and submit samples, fee information, where to get sampling supplies and how to interpret laboratory results—is available online at www.ncagr.com/agronomi. For information on the NCDA&CS regional agronomist in your area, call (919) 733-2655 or visit www.ncagr.com/agronomi/rahome.htm.
Yarborough is available to work with growers in Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Swain and Yancey counties. He can be reached by phone at (828) 456-3943 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.