Agronomic Services — News ReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, OCT. 5, 2000
Chadbourn farm benefits from consultation with NCDA&CS regional agronomistBLADENBORO — Last year, Weldon Edmund of Columbus County reluctantly let his sons Joe and Bill talk him into planting an acre of strawberries. On May 6, after months of advice from N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' regional agronomist Rick Morris, the Edmunds took home top honors for strawberry quality at the Chadbourn Strawberry Festival and walked away with a sizeable cash award. The entire Edmund family is now a strong advocate of strawberries as a crop and of Morris as an advisor.
"You won't find a more dedicated person in all your life," Joe Edmund said of Morris. "Rick has kept us on target pretty good."
In August 1999, before the Edmunds committed themselves to strawberries, Morris put them in touch with other strawberry producers in nearby counties. Visits to these operations convinced the Edmunds they could grow strawberries too.
In October, they prepared the land and laid out black plastic. They hired migrant workers to plant the crop. It took only an hour to set out 19,500 plants.
From late January through March, Morris gave the Edmunds an intensive course in plant tissue sampling. "Rick worked with us day and night pulling samples," said Joe Edmund. "We joked that we ought to move a cot out to the farm so he could stay whenever he needed to."
Tissue sampling involves collecting plant parts — usually leaves and petioles — at regular intervals during the growing season. For strawberries, samples should be pulled every week to two weeks. The Agronomic Division's Plant, Waste and Solution lab in Raleigh chemically analyzes the samples to determine nutrient levels within the crop — a good investment at a cost of $4 per sample.
Knowing nutrient levels within a crop is especially helpful for growers who raise high-value specialty crops like strawberries. This information enables them to apply exactly the right amount of fertilizer during critical periods of flowering and fruit set. Precise application saves money, protects the environment and optimizes yield and quality.
Tissue sampling is primarily a monitoring tool that lets a farmer know if his fertilization program is on track. The Edmunds' first two sets of tissue samples indicated no problems, but analysis of the third sample revealed a need for nitrogen and Epsom salts. Once those needs were taken care of, subsequent tissue samples showed normal levels of nutrients.
Weldon Edmund has farmed all his life, just like his father and his grandfather before him. For the most part, he has grown corn, soybeans and tobacco. Three years ago, he had 75 acres of tobacco, but three years of quota cuts reduced it to 40 acres in 1999. This year's success with strawberries has helped Weldon Edmund decide that this will be his last year for tobacco.
Ironically, Weldon Edmund's father had about 44 acres of strawberries back in the 1940s. He was one of the first and largest growers in the area. Back then, though, it was particularly hard to harvest that many strawberries and get them to market.
Today the Edmunds have the advantage of black plastic, newer technology and advice from their regional agronomist, but even so they plan to diversify. In 2001, they plan to grow two acres of strawberries, plus about three acres of vegetables on plastic and five acres of bare-ground vegetables. In addition, they want to branch out to include greenhouse-grown chrysanthemums and tomatoes. Whatever the crop, they can count on Morris for advice.
Morris wants to help other growers protect their investments and improve production. He is available to visit or consult with growers in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland and Robeson counties who need help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. He can be reached at (910) 866-5485 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Field Services section of the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division has 14 regional agronomists located throughout the state. For more information or for the name of the regional agronomist for your area, call J. Kent Messick at (919) 733-2655 or refer to the division website at www.ncagr.com/agronomi.