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November 25, 2008

Prawn industry gets boost in North Carolina

prawn harvest
Workers process prawns after they are harvested at Crazy Claws Prawn Farm. (Photos by Marc Hall)

By 10 a.m. on a Tuesday in October, the prawns are out of the pond at the Relyeas’ “Crazy Claws” Prawn Farm in Greene County. According Mike Frinsko, area aquaculture agent, this is a big change from years past, when the harvests went on from early morning until late afternoon and evening.

Malaysian prawns are large, freshwater shrimp-like crustaceans raised in specially designed earthen ponds. And they are the hottest trend in North Carolina aquaculture, thanks largely to the efforts of Frinsko and the formation this year of the new American Prawn Cooperative, based here in North Carolina.

In 2004, North Carolina had a single prawn operation in Johnston County. The owners of the DJ&W Shrimp Farm had enlisted Frinsko’s help in creating two ponds to raise the prawns. Today, the state is home to 12 prawn producers from Vanceboro in the east to Mt. Airy in the west. Five of the producers joined the new cooperative this year.

The Relyeas, who have raised prawns for three years to supplement their produce operation, next year will host the nation’s first quick-freeze prawn processing plant. The cooperative received a grant through Greene County from the N.C. Rural Center to develop the processing line to support the state’s growing prawn industry.

Raising prawns is a lot like other types of food animals. The ponds are stocked in the spring with juvenile prawns that grow throughout the summer. Mature prawns are harvested in the fall before the water gets too cold. Unique to aquaculture, producers must carefully manage a variety of water-quality factors on a daily basis, paying special attention to the impact of feed-derived nutrients and the daily fluctuations of oxygen.

When the prawns are large enough to harvest, the farmers drain the ponds, and the prawns follow the water flow as it exits into a catch basin. Once in the basin they are then netted, placed in baskets and carried on for additional processing.

At the Relyeas’ farm, the prawns were transported in large tanks from the ponds to the processing lines. First, they are submerged in ice water, then their heads removed before they are shipped to a nearby catfish processing plant for quick freezing. From there, many find their way north to the “white tablecloth” restaurants of New York and other cities.

The American Prawn Cooperative was developed with assistance of N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, according to Frinsko. Natalie Relyea of Crazy Claws is the treasurer and processing manager for the co-op. The processing facility will be located at a site adjacent to her Walstonburg-area farm.

“The five producers (in the co-op) have all worked collaboratively, assisting each other at harvest,” Frinsko said. “They’ve developed real teamwork.”

Mike Frinsko, left, talks with Natalie Relyea at the October prawn harvest on her farm.

Frinsko attributes this teamwork to the speedier harvests seen this season. He hopes that forming the cooperative will allow the growers to not only benefit from the support of other members, but to provide increased market penetration by working together.

“We’ve proven for seven years that we can raise prawns,” he said. “We’ve been able to market individually, and now we feel we will be more successful marketing together.”

Working together is something new to many farmers, who are accustomed to looking after their own operations. But these five growers in the co-op set a goal of working together, and it seems to work for them.

“We don’t always agree,” said Natalie Relyea, “but we are committed to working together.”

And by combining their product, the co-op producers will also provide clients with more prawns to supply larger markets.

Natalie Relyea and her husband John added prawns to their business three years ago. They already had learned how successful a local produce business can be – the Relyeas sell 4,000-5,000 gallons of shelled butterbeans and peas each summer.

“This prawn thing has really caught on,” Natalie said. “We realized that there is a huge market for people who want to know where their food comes from.”

She is proud of the quality of the prawns the Crazy Claws produces. “They’re the best prawns because of the way they’re handled,” she said. “They are raised and processed with no preservatives, no additives.” And Frinsko added, “Prawns are also a sustainably produced food, another important point as we compete in an increasingly green economy.”

The Relyea’s have three two-acre prawn ponds, which can each produce roughly 2,000 pounds of prawns. This year was probably their best harvest ever, she said. “We learn more and get better every year.”

Natalie appreciates the support that Mike Frinsko has provided to her family and other prawn producers. “Mike knows the industry, and he’s very quality conscious,” she said. “He attends our harvest. He’s our tech guy, and a good friend too.”

She also credits other N.C. State faculty for their support of agriculture in North Carolina, including Bob Usry, now retired from Agricultural and Resource Economics; Blake Brown of the Value-Added Program in Kannapolis; Matt Parker of NCDA&CS, ; and Mark Seitz, area horticulture agent; and Stan Dixon, soon-to-be-retired Greene County Extension director.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at 11:12 AM

College team works to ensure farmworkers' health

A N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences team is working to make crop fields safer for Spanish-speaking laborers through bilingual pesticide safety training.

Dr. Greg Cope, Julia Storm and Catherine LePrevost of the College’s Environmental and Molecular Toxicology Department are developing “Pesticides and Farmworker Health: A Toolkit to Enhance Pesticide Safety Training for Hispanic/Latino Workers.” The three-year project is funded by a $223,785 NC Pesticide Board Pesticide Environmental Trust Fund grant.

Cope is associate professor, department Extension leader and N.C. State agromedicine coordinator; Storm is an agromedicine information specialist and LePrevost is a doctoral candidate and project coordinator.

“The project is necessary and timely for several reasons,” says Cope. “Pesticide products and their use in agricultural practice have changed since our original series was developed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating changes to the Worker Protection Standard involving hazard communication and relevant stakeholders have expressed the need for effective pesticide safety training resources for farmworkers to augment the crop sheets.”

Says Storm, “We are developing innovative materials for crop-specific pesticide safety training for Latino farmworkers based on the latest research in hazard recognition and hazard communication as well as our own product development testing. The product we are developing is more visual and comprehensive than existing crop sheets in our state and others, and addresses preferences expressed by farmworkers.”

Based on the success of their 1998-through-2003 bilingual publication series, “Pesticides and Human Health” -- which covered tobacco, green peppers, cucumbers, Christmas trees, sweet potatoes, apples, tomatoes and grapes -- the team decided to enhance farm worker pesticide safety training by developing the toolkit.

The toolkit includes:
o updated, improved, culturally appropriate, illustrated, low-literacy crop sheets and posters in Spanish and English that include information about toxicity signal words printed on pesticide labels, such as “caution,” warning” and “danger”
o information on restricted entry intervals, or the time period, based on a pesticide’s toxicity, during which workers can’t enter a pesticide-treated area
o symptoms of acute health effects for pesticides most commonly used in many hand-labor-intensive crops in North Carolina
o lesson plans for Extension and outreach educators, including a set of interactive activities from which trainers can choose to reinforce lesson learning objectives and assess most appropriate learning for a low-literacy audience with lower levels of formal education.
o a color flip chart with crop-specific images and scenarios for each crop that provides trainers with appropriate questions for engaging workers while displaying visual cues
o references to more training resources

“Because this is a low-literacy population and a Latino audience, traditional lecture methods such as PowerPoint presentations are less appropriate,” says LePrevost, who has taught at NC State and completed the NC State Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching program. A NCSU doctoral candidate in science education, she spent a semester in Mexico and studies Spanish.

“We are developing resources and educational tools based on basic and adult education principles and culturally appropriate design,” she says. “For adults, lessons should validate learners' knowledge and experiences by providing opportunities to contribute these aspects to the training. So the lesson takes on a guided discussion format in which the trainer engages farmworkers in a conversation about pesticide safety. ”

Assisting the team are Cintia Aguilar, Cooperative Extension’s Latino Affairs facilitator; Cesar Asuaje, bilingual farm safety educator, University of Florida Cooperative Extension, who also collaborated on farmworker focus groups; and NC Farmworker Health Program consultants from the state Health and Human Services Department. The team field tested toolkit prototypes with 25 farmworkers through focused small-group discussions to assess learning and preferences.

"I think it is particularly valuable for the project to conduct field tests of materials with the target population,” says Mercedes Hernández-Pelletier, health educator and the NC Farmworkers Project Inc.’s former executive director. Hernández-Pelletier, now a state public health worker, recruited farmworkers for one of the focus groups and provided a meeting place.

The team also consults with crop specialists for current use information for commonly used pesticides for each crop in the series. Consultants for the tobacco crop sheet in progress include NC State doctors Clyde Sorenson, entomology professor; Loren Fisher, associate professor and extension crop science specialist; and Asimina Mila, assistant professor and extension tobacco specialist.

The team will later include crops covered in their previous series -- tobacco, Christmas trees, sweet potatoes, green peppers, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and grapes -- and several new ones: blueberries, landscape horticulture and strawberries.

“Some of these crops, like tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries, have a greater proportion of female workers,” notes LePrevost. “To be sure the established prototype effectively communicates information to both men and women, we’ll begin field testing the materials with a group of women working in tomatoes in 2009.”

-A. Latham

Posted by Art at 10:58 AM

November 24, 2008

NC youth win big at NJHA

youth at NGHA
North Carolina youth show their spirit for winning the State Spirit Award at NJHA for the second year in a row. (Photo courtesy of Liz Driscoll)

“A long, long time ago, all we knew was an avocado,
but we got better and now we know broccoli from tomato.”

This was the rap that erupted from the creative North Carolina youth delegates, remarking on their plant identification experiences in the Performing Arts category of the 74th National Junior Horticulture Association’s annual convention. Traveling down to Spartanburg, S.C. , 14 youth and five adult leaders from across the state spent five days discovering Southern horticulture and sharing their horticultural knowledge through speeches, presentations, demonstrations, essays, experiments and the Horticulture Judging Contest.

From Ikebana flower arrangements to strawberry- and honey-glazed fruit kebabs, the North Carolina youth articulately showed their skills. Our delegation was a merry bunch of youth, who enjoyed supporting each other with cheers, shouts, the wave and chants, earning them the Most Spirited State Award for the second year in a row. “Our North Carolina delegation is a dynasty!” remarked Michael Costa, a returning delegate, and enthusiastic and witty teen from Camden County.

“Our 4-H teens are inspirational in their genuine interest, dedication and excitement about plants and their desire to share the stories with others." said Liz Driscoll, 4-H youth horticulture Extension specialist.

"They took advantage of every opportunity the convention offered, from meeting new friends from other states, reconnecting with folks from previous years, participating in workshops and immersing themselves in local field trips to Hatcher Gardens, Wofford College campus arboretum, Milliken Arboretum and Clemson University.
Our youth drew high honors in many events and most youth participated in multiple events.

Thanks to hard work and dedication, the North Carolina youth brought home the following awards:
Horticulture Contest, Open Individual Honors
Grand National Champion (1st), Caitlin Davis, Stokes County
2nd Place: Dakota Starr, Wake County

Horticulture Contest, 4-H Team
5th place, Emily Mercer, Justin Simmons, Bryan Evans, Victoria Harman, all of Brunswick County

Horticulture Contest, 4-H Individual Awards
5th Overall: Emily Mercer, Brunswick County

Horticulture Contest, Open Team
Grand National Champions (1st Place), Logan Bland, Michael Costa, Tyler Lannon and Oliver Manzer, Pasquotank County (also the highest scoring team out of any category)

Demonstration, Artistic Arrangement Grand National Winner
Caitlin Davis, Stokes County

Demonstration, Horticultural Use
Grand National Winner, Charity Haskins, Hoke County

Illustrated Talk
Grand National Winner, Timothy Sherwood, Camden County

Demonstration, Production
Grand National Winner, Timothy Sherwood, Camden County

Prepared Speech
National Winner, Tyler Lannon, Camden County

Extemporaneous Speech
National Winner, Michael Costa, Camden County
National Winner, Timothy Sherwood, Camden County

Horticulture Essay Contest
National Winner, Dakota Starr, Wake County

Performing Arts
National Winner, Pasquotank/Camden County team -- Oliver Manzer, Timothy Sherwood, Tyler Lannon, Michael Costa, Logan Bland

State Spirit Award
North Carolina (second year in a row)

Horticulture Connections
1st place North Carolina Team -- Caitlin Davis, Stokes County; Dakota Starr, Wake County, Kait Neeland, Currituck County; and Justin Simmons, Brunswick County

NJHA Young America Project Winners
The NJHA Young America Program is designed to stimulate an interest in horticulture with youth ages 5-14 through the completion of gardening projects. We had a number of youth in North Carolina that were awarded for their achievements.
Gardening (5-8 years), Grand National Winner: Carter Mills, Wake County; National Winner; Nazeeha Aman, Wake County

Gardening (9 – 11 years), National Winners, Ishaq Ibrahim, Winston Beck, Charley Maynard, all of Wake County

Gardening (12-14 years), Grand National Winner: Michael Hoxie, Wake County; National Winners: Hunter Starr and Lillian Beck, both of Wake County

Plant Propagation (5-8 years), National Winner, Nazeeha Aman, Wake County

Plant Propagation (12-14 years), National Winner, Ismail Ibrahim, Wake County

Experimental Horticulture (5-8 years), National Winner, Idris Ibrahim, Wake County

Experimental Horticulture (12-14 years), Grand National Champion, Gabriel Hoxie, Wake County

Environmental Awareness (5-8 years), National Winner, Asiyah Ibrahim, Wake County

Environmental Awareness (12-14 years), Grand National Champion, Mary Silliman Ibrahim, Wake County; National Winners, Adrian Rodriquez and Nayeem Hossain, both of Wake County

NJHA Garden Poster Contest
(5-7 years), 1st place, Zachary Peterson, Sampson County; 2nd place, Vernae Boyd, Sampson County; 3rd place, Nazeeha Aman, Wake County

(8-10 years), 2nd place, Alexis Kirby, Sampson County; 3rd place, Angel Coleman, Sampson County

(11-14 years) 2nd place, Joseph Johnson, Sampson County

Posted by Natalie at 10:16 AM

CEFS hosts meetings on local food economies

What will it take to build a sustainable, local food economy in North Carolina, where local growers have access to local markets for their products? Consumers in Greenville, Winston-Salem and the Charlotte area will have the opportunity to share their thoughts on the subject at three upcoming regional meetings, sponsored by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

Efforts to build a local food economy can include new farmer’s markets, local food policy councils, comprehensive county or region-based food initiatives, farm incubator programs, farm and/or garden youth education programs, health and nutrition projects focused on local sustainable foods, procurement initiatives by large retail and institutional buyers and schools.

The upcoming meetings will be held in the following locations:
Charlotte area: Dec. 8, 1:30-4:30 p.m., Cabarrus Arena and Event Center, 4751 Highway 49 North, Concord, NC 28025. Directions: www.cabarrusarena.com/pages/Direction.html.

Winston-Salem: Dec. 10, 5:30-8:30 p.m. SciWorks. 400 W Hanes Mill Rd, Winston Salem, (336) 767-6734. Directions: www.sciworks.org/SciInfoDirections.html.

Greenville: Dec.15, 1:30-4:30 p.m., St. Timothy’s, 107 Louis St., Greenville.

Over the next year, CEFS and its partners will gather information from across the state’s food system sectors, conducting regional meetings, targeted working issues groups, interviews and hosting a statewide summit on March 2 and 3. The goal of this initiative is to develop a Statewide Action Plan for Building the Local Food Economy.

The plan will include specific steps -- short- and long-term -- that policy makers, universities, government agencies, environmental organizations, businesses, funding agencies, social activists, NGOs and citizens can take to make local food economies possible. Regional meetings have already been held in Raleigh, Asheville and Burgaw.

“If each North Carolinian spent 55 cents a day on local food -- just 5 percent of the $4,010 that we spend on average on food consumption per year -- it would mean $1.7 billion for the state’s economy,” said Nancy Creamer, CEFS director, based at N.C. State University. “That money circulates here in the state, so has a multiplier effect, rather than going to a corporate headquarters in another state.”

Other benefits of a sustainable, local food economy in North Carolina include economic development, job creation within farming and food sectors, preservation of open space, decreased use of fossil fuel and associated carbon emissions, preservation and protection of the natural environment, increased consumer access to fresh and nutritious foods, and greater food security for all North Carolinians.

Please contact Amber Polk, amber_polk@ncsu.edu, to respond for attending a regional meeting, as these meetings have been filling up, and to be added to a listserv. Check the local foods initiative Web site -- www.cefsfarmtofork.com -- for updates. For more information about the initiative, contact nancy_creamer@ncsu.edu.

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems, based in Goldsboro, is a partnership of N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Internationally recognized, CEFS provides research, teaching and outreach on sustainable agriculture.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at 09:44 AM

November 13, 2008

News from NC A&T State University

On Tuesday, Nov. 18, the two finalists to fill the position of natural resources specialist with The Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University will be presenting seminars, and all interested SAES faculty and staff are invited to sit in. Both candidates will discuss “A Design of a Program on Environmental Stewardship Issues in Rural North Carolina.” Dr. James Hamilton’s presentation will begin at 9:15 a.m. and Dr. Joshua Idassi’s presentation will begin at noon. Both candidates will be making their seminar presentations in the Daniel D. Godfrey Multipurpose Room at Coltrane.

Hamilton received his master’s in forestry from Auburn University and his doctorate in forestry from N.C. State. Idassi, who received his doctorate in forest resources from Mississippi State University, is currently Extension Forester at Tennessee State University

Read more from ag e-dispatch

Posted by Natalie at 09:31 AM

November 12, 2008

IPM program fights global agricultural pests

fruit fly traps
Yulu Xia holds two types of fruit fly traps being used in Jamaica. (Photo courtesy of Yulu Xia)

Integrated Pest Management and information technology specialists at North Carolina State University are helping developing countries use the Internet to manage old pests and to guard their borders against new pests.

Funded by the U.S. Agency of International Development Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program (USAID IPM CRSP), Yulu Xia and Ron Stinner with the Center for Integrated Pest Management (CIPM) are developing a network of pest databases for developing countries around the world. The center is housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University. Xia and Stinner have been working with scientists from Clemson University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the Pennsylvania State University on these new global information systems that provide pest management guidance in English and in the native languages.

Southeast Asia
Bogor Agricultural University of Indonesia will use the system to share information about the Cocoa Pod Borer (CPB), a major pest in Southeast Asia. A pest that is relatively unknown outside of Asia, the cocoa pod borer is a potential threat to cocoa production in South America and Africa. The information system provides a detailed review of CPB’s history, biology, ecology, management practices and previous research. In addition, detailed images help identify the insect’s different stages, and mapping software allows users to track the pest’s movements from day to day.

The project team includes Xia and Stinner, Aunu Rauf from Bogor Agricultural University, and entomologists from Clemson University. They are currently refining the mapping system. The system will eventually allow the user to see information about CPB news, such as the time of the event, the nature of new findings and the source of the report. Xia, who is the principle investigator for the project, is the assistant director for international programs at the center.

West Africa
In West Africa, scientists from five countries have teamed up with scientists from Virginia Tech to develop a regional integrated pest management network. The network includes Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Gambia, part of the West Africa Regional IPM Consortium. The project involves a pest information database that will store information on insect pests, plant diseases, weeds and storage pests. The system also includes a pesticide training module that will provide pesticide safety information and links to pest information throughout the region.

The Caribbean
In Jamaica, Xia and Stinner are working with another team of scientists from the Pennsylvania State University and the Jamaican Rural Agricultural Development Authority to combat fruit flies. While fruit flies are mildly annoying to most consumers, they wreak havoc on the fruit and vegetable industry. In the United States and several other countries, fruit flies are at the top of the list of phytosanitary pests -- pests the U.S. wants to keep out.

The database, which eventually will include the entire Caribbean, includes monitoring data from hundreds of fruit fly traps in every Jamaican parish. The team is currently developing the mapping software needed to visualize changing fruit fly abundance and distributions.

South America
CIPM has also joined with scientists from the National Institute for Agricultural Research in Ecuador in developing a national pest management information system for identification and information sharing. Currently, scientists in Ecuador are collecting information and entering the data into the system.

“Pests in cocoa and other major crops are a very serious issue in Ecuador,” says Dr. Carmen Suarezcapello, director of the pathology department at the institute. “Growers come to our experiment station all the time to obtain pest management information. We need to set up a national pest information system to let growers obtain pest management information on line.”

For now, the center is developing a number of software options for
sharing global pest information such as pestMapper and Global IPM
Technology Database.

Posted by Natalie at 10:55 AM

November 07, 2008

N.C. ag agents step up for N.C. farmers

At a time when some question the validity of Cooperative Extension in general and county agents specifically, a group of six Extension agents in northeast North Carolina annually step well beyond the expected an put on one of the very best field days of the year.

The Northeast Ag Expo, named for northeast North Carolina, has been going on for a few years now. Last year the topic was corn — corn was a hot topic in 2007. This year the topic was peanuts — peanuts are making a comeback in the upper Southeast. Next year the topic will be another timely one — small grains.

The Northeast Ag Expo is planned, developed and brought to reality each year by six county agents and their dedicated staffs to bring the latest in research and Extension information on what they deem to be the hottest topics for farmers in their area of the world.

The six counties involved include: Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Perquimans and Pasquotank. The six movers and shakers who have made the Expo work for the past few years are: Mark Powell, Camden County; Mike Williams, Chowan County; Tommy Gandy, Currituck County; Paul Smith, Gates County; Lewis Smith, Perquimans County; and Al Wood, Pasquotank County.

Read more from The Southeast Farm Press

Posted by Natalie at 03:59 PM

November 06, 2008

Susan Ruiz-Evans new Extension director for Dare County

Susan Ruiz-Evans has been selected to replace Ann Ward as the County Extension Director of the Dare County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Ward retired earlier this year.

Read more on the WNCT-TV Web site

Posted by Dave at 08:23 AM