Agronomic Services — News ReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FRIDAY, AUG. 16, 2002
Contact: Dr. Bobby Walls
Assistant Director, Agronomic Division
NCDA&CS keeps pace as farmers shift to specialty cropsRALEIGH — Interest in specialty crop production is growing in the state as farmers have experienced declining tobacco quotas, and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is supporting farmers in growing these new crops.
With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division is conducting field tests on the nutrient needs of specialty crops so it can continue to provide reliable nutrient recommendations to farmers.
“High-value crops like fresh market vegetables, melons, wine grapes, strawberries, organic crops, cut flowers and nursery crops are replacing less lucrative field crops,” says Dr. Richard C. Reich, Agronomic Division director. “We have decades of data to support our lime and fertilizer recommendations for standard field crops, but less experience with some of the alternative crops farmers are turning to today. We need to develop appropriate data so we can provide sound management information.”
Nearly twice as many acres of European wine grapes are being grown now compared to three years ago. Sweetpotato acreage increased by 16 percent from 1998 to 2000. Bedding plant production in the state increased 40 percent from 2000 to 2001. In Nash County, cantaloupe production increased from 50 to 300 acres in the last season alone.
“There have been tremendous changes in agriculture in the past few years and we want to be responsive to our farmers and provide them with the best information on their crops,” said Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps. “ Many farmers rely on their agronomic reports to help make sound business decisions on nutrient and pest management needs.”
Most of these new and emerging crops require high input costs and intensive management. To be profitable and grow quality produce, farmers must monitor the crop’s water and fertilizer needs closely.
Many do this by relying on several types of tests available through the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division.
The Division is well known for the soil testing service it has provided for state residents for more than 60 years. In this time, the Agronomic Division has worked to keep its recommendations accurate and up to date by periodically conducting field studies on the needs of specific crops for lime and fertilizer. Now that a different assortment of crops is being grown, additional field studies need to be done.
Specialty crops present new challenges though. Many are grown under plastic with water and fertilizer applied through drip irrigation. Management requires more foresight, more planning and more routine testing, especially plant tissue analyses.
By collecting tissue samples at regular intervals throughout the season, growers can protect their investments. They can find out if a crop is getting enough nutrients and adjust fertilizer application accordingly. By knowing how much fertilizer to apply at each stage of crop growth, farmers can maximize their yields, save money, and protect water quality.
That’s where the field studies come in. Recommendations are only as good as the information they are based on. As specialty crops become more widely grown, the Agronomic Division wants to make sure their recommendations are the best they can be.
Field studies are now underway to improve plant tissue interpretations for wine grapes, trellis tomatoes and cantaloupes; to investigate the effect of delayed nitrogen applications on sweetpotato yield and quality; and to fine-tune the nutritional needs of various cut flower crops. By providing more accurate information on fertility management, NCDA&CS is doing what it can to help North Carolina farmers develop new crops and a new economy.
Growers who need assistance with managing a nutrient or nematode-related problem should contact their local agricultural advisor, call the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division at (919) 733-2655, or visit the division’s Web site at www.ncagr.com/agronomi/. NCDA&CS has 14 regional agronomists statewide who are available to make on-site visits and help resolve these problems.