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September 29, 2009

Produce task force hosts USDA, FDA experts

Alex Hitt's farm
Farmer Alex Hitt (center) talks about postharvest handling at the Peregrine Farm packing shed.(Debbie Roos photo)

The N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force hosted the Food & Drug Administration in Raleigh for a Small Farm Produce Safety Listening Session on Sept. 28. Senior advisers and policy experts from both the FDA and the USDA listened to a panel of North Carolina small farmers as they shared their thoughts and concerns about impending produce safety legislation.

After the listening session, the FDA and USDA folks visited two area small farms: Peregrine Farm and McAdams Farm. View more photos from the event at Growing Small Farms.

Posted by Natalie at 09:50 AM

September 23, 2009

Clement will serve as Extension director in Clay, Cherokee counties

Doug Clement

Doug Clement, Cherokee County Extension director since April 1999, will also assume the role of Clay County Extension director, effective Oct. 1.

His appointment was approved and announced by Clay County Manager Paul Leek, Cherokee County Manager David Badger and North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Director Jon Ort. Clement succeeds Dr. Kenneth McCaskill, who will retire Sept. 30 as county Extension director for both Macon and Clay counties.

Clement began work with Cooperative Extension in 1987 as an agricultural agent in Graham County, where he later served as county Extension director from 1993-1995. He also has worked as a 4-H agent for Cooperative Extension in Polk County.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree in education from N.C. State University.

“Doug has served in Cherokee County as Extension director and is very familiar with the needs of the citizens, the Extension staffs and county issues in the Cherokee and Clay county area. He is a 2009 graduate of Extension’s Advanced Organizational Leadership Institute and has worked closely with the Clay County Extension staff for several years,” said Harvey Fouts, district Extension director for the West District, which includes Clay and Cherokee counties.

“Doug’s experience and leadership gained in Graham and Cherokee counties has been very positive for Extension and its service to those citizens,” Fouts said. “I am now very pleased that Doug is willing to also accept leadership for Clay County and look forward to his continued excellence in managing our Cooperative Extension centers in Cherokee and Clay counties.”

Posted by Natalie at 09:00 AM

September 22, 2009

New technical bulletin focuses on switchgrass

Order a copy of Switchgrass, research bulletin TB-326, from the Department of Communication Services: www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/Publications%20Order%20Form%20for%20the%20Public.pdf
$8 per copy.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a perennial grass native to the southeastern United States that can be used as a pasture, stored forage or biomass crop. A new technical bulletin developed by crop scientists at N.C. State University and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service summarizes the results of 26 independent research projects that focused on switchgrass—from its establishment and management challenges to its potential as a crop for grazing animals and biomass.

Based on their findings, the authors make recommendations for establishing switchgrass, managing it and selecting a cultivar based on use. The bulletin includes data on two improved cultivars developed jointly by the N.C. Agricultural Research Service and the USDA–ARS and released in 2006.

Switchgrass can be difficult to establish. Upland and lowland switchgrass cytotypes (or ecotypes) have different genetic characteristics. It’s important to select an ecotype and a cultivar within a type based on the crop’s location and intended use. Seed dormancy, insect damage and weed competition often contribute to poor establishment. Crop scientist J.C. Burns and ten other researchers designed their studies to investigate these challenges.

The researchers used switchgrass plots located at N.C. State University field laboratories to test the effects of cover crops, insecticides and the herbicide atrazine on switchgrass cultivars. Seeds collected from established switchgrass stands received prechilling and plant-growth-hormone treatments. Germination tests revealed differences among treatments.

To investigate switchgrass as a forage crop, the researchers conducted yield trials and analyzed the cell wall content of different cultivars. Grasses were managed as pasture—or harvested from established stands and stored as silage or hay—and used in feeding experiments with grazing animals. Differences were detected in nutritive values among switchgrass cultivars and other forages, such as tall fescue and bermudagrass. The researchers also analyzed the yield potential of switchgrass ecotypes for use as biomass.

Posted by Natalie at 03:38 PM

September 03, 2009

Extension initiative focuses on year-round fresh produce safety

September is Food Safety Month, and North Carolina Cooperative Extension, in cooperation with the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force, is leading an initiative to educate fruit and vegetable growers and consumers about measures that can minimize food safety risks. The organization has received more than $250,000 in grant funding to support the statewide Extension and research effort.

Cooperative Extension has conducted train-the-trainer workshops for Extension agents, who, in turn, will train producers. The training focuses on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and what it takes to obtain GAPs certification. Industry, such as grocery stores, is increasingly demanding that growers they buy from be GAPs certified.

The fresh produce safety curriculum consists of nine training modules that cover GAPs measures, such as verifying the safety of irrigation water, regular hand-washing procedures, packing facility and transportation vehicle cleanliness, maintaining the "cold chain" temperature and establishing traceability. The workshops also include modules focused on managing risks and liability as well as crisis communication.

In addition, a Web site, www.ncfreshproducesafety.org has been developed as a resource for growers, consumers and Extension agents.

Additional efforts include development of food safety plan templates for growers to use and adapt to their operations, presentations focusing on fresh produce safety education and active representation on the Governor's Food Safety and Defense Task Force.

Traceability systems research is being conducted by N.C. State University faculty. The research will identify current measures and assess the industry's ability to trace fresh produce in the event of an outbreak or food safety incident triggering a recall. The research will be used to make recommendations for improvements. Researchers are also studying typical North Carolina farming and produce packing and shipping operations.

Extension specialists and agents will use these studies to develop traceability templates that farmers statewide can use to implement traceability measures cost effectively on their farms.

Other research includes testing irrigation water for potential contamination and looking at ways to reduce risks.

N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE), USDA Rural Cooperative Development, Agricultural Advancement Consortium of The N.C. Rural Center, Risk Management Agency, N.C. Tomato Growers Association and PPG Inc. provided funding for the fresh produce safety initiative.

N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty members serve as co-chairs of the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force. The task force brings together fresh produce growers, educators, government officials, public policy makers, industry representatives and researchers. It consists of five working groups: education, research, industry and policy relationships, networking and Communications, and executive management oversight.

The co-chairs are Dr. Ben Chapman, CALS Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences; Diane Ducharme, CALS Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture; Dr. Chris Gunter, CALS Department of Horticulture Science; and Dr. Trevor Phister, CALS Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences.

In addition to Ducharme, other Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture team members are members of the task force. Rod Gurganus and Leah Chester-Davis, serve as co-chairs of the education, and networking and communications working groups, respectively.

N.C. Cooperative Extension is an educational outreach of N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University. It has programs in all 100 counties and the Cherokee Reservation.

Learn more at www.ces.ncsu.edu. The Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture is located at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. The multidisciplinary team builds partnerships and educational resources to help North Carolina agriculture be more profitable. The team works closely with N.C. Cooperative Extension personnel who work with farmers across the state. Learn more at www.ncvalueadded.org.

-L. Chester-Davis

Posted by Natalie at 10:11 AM