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Agronomic Services — News Release

THURSDAY, DEC. 28, 2000

Farmer adapts to new crops

SANFORD – Like many North Carolina farmers, Jimmy Lee of Brickhaven is growing a different set of commodities than he did 10 years ago. Gone are the hogs; tobacco acreage has been cut in half; and specialty crops and produce are gaining favor.

“Changing crops has meant changing the way I farm,” Lee said. “And the Department of Agriculture has helped lead me through it.”

Lee farms a total of 200 acres: half of it in tobacco, the rest in strawberries, sweet corn, cantaloupes, greenhouse tomatoes and other commodities. He branched out with strawberries and sweet corn six years ago and greenhouse tomatoes for the first time in 1999. With each new venture, he turned to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services for advice.

Last year, before starting greenhouse tomato production, Lee consulted with NCDA&CS regional agronomist David Dycus. Since this was the first time Lee had grown a greenhouse crop, Dycus advised him about solution analysis. By sending in a sample of the source water he planned to use for his fertilizer nutrient solution, Lee could check for potential problems such as high alkalinity.

Following Dycus’ recommendation, Lee collected his first solution sample and sent it off to the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division laboratory in Raleigh. There was no problem with the water source so Lee’s tomatoes got off to a good start.

Several weeks later, however, Lee ran into problems and called Dycus again. “At first, I thought I would just fertilize tomatoes like strawberries,” Lee said. He knows now that wasn’t a good idea.

Dycus suspected a nutrient problem and suggested that Lee collect leaves and submit them for tissue analysis. “Greenhouse tomatoes are such a high-value crop that growers need to take tissue samples regularly to check behind themselves,” Dycus said.

Nutrient analyses performed at the Agronomic lab indicated that Lee’s tomato plants were high in nitrogen, low in potassium and also in need of calcium. These kinds of nutrient levels could have led to serious problems with blossom-end rot if left alone.

Based on the findings listed in the plant analysis report, Lee adjusted his liquid fertilizer solution to supply the crop’s needs. Lee and Dycus continued to monitor the tomatoes’ nutrient status over the next several months, making fertilizer adjustments as necessary.

“Things got better and just kept improving,” Lee said. “It was a learning experience.”

He soon applied the same strategy to his cucumber crop. Just like with the tomatoes, he monitored the effectiveness of his fertilizer applications by taking tissue samples and having them tested.

“I knew Dycus could help me,” Lee said. “A couple of years ago, he put out a fertilizer test in my strawberry field and showed how I could grow quality berries with less nitrogen.” That was not the only adjustment Dycus convinced Lee to make.

He used his knowledge of local soil types to suggest other changes to Lee’s strawberry fertilizer program. “In sandy soils, I always recommend putting out extra potassium during the growing season,” Dycus said, “even though some strawberry growers use only nitrogen. With too little potassium, I have noticed the fruit is soft and mushy and shelf life is decreased.”

Even though he has “always been a tobacco farmer,” strawberries are now Lee’s favorite crop. And he credits Dycus with helping him improve his production for maximum returns.

Other growers who need help with crop fertility problems can contact Dycus by phone at (919) 776-9338 or by email at Based in Sanford, Dycus serves Anson, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, Richmond and Scotland counties. He has advised farmers as a NCDA&CS regional agronomist since 1998, but his growers also benefit from his 13 years of prior experience with Cooperative Extension.

The Field Services Section of the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division has 14 regional agronomists located throughout the state. These agronomists are available to visit or consult with growers in their regions who need help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. For more information or for the name of the regional agronomist for your area, call J. Kent Messick at (919) 733-2655 or check out the Agronomic Division’s Field Services Web site at


Last Update August 1, 2007


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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