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Agronomic Services — News Release

MONDAY, AUG. 21, 2000

Regional agronomist introduces services helpful to farmers

MARION — Steve Dillon, a regional agronomist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, spends a lot of time traveling the backroads of southwestern North Carolina. For a little over a year, it’s been his job to advise farmers in an eight-county region that includes Cleveland, Gaston, Henderson, Lincoln, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties.

Dillon’s mission is to spread the word to farmers about the services available through the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division. These include soil testing, nematode assay, and plant tissue, waste and solution analyses. The best part of his job, however, involves seeing results — as he did with Donald and Jeff Searcy of Polk County.

Last year Dillon chanced across the Searcys’ farm on his way to the Farmers’ Market in Asheville. Seeing men in the field, he followed a hunch to stop. His timing could not have been better.

Donald and his son Jeff have an impressive spread — 50 acres of vegetables on black plastic that include cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, sweet corn, sweetpotatoes and tomatoes. That day, however, both men were unhappy with their trellis tomato crop and were discussing what to do about it.

The Searcys have been farming in the Mill Spring community for 25 years. That’s long enough to have experienced almost everything. Even so, they were surprised when Dillon marched into their field and introduced himself.

He asked the Searcys if they were already using Agronomic Division services, such as soil testing, plant tissue analysis and nematode assay. "We’d been taking soil samples for years and had pulled some nematode samples, but we had never sampled plant tissue," Donald Searcy said.

Tissue sampling involves collecting plant parts — usually leaves and sometimes the petioles, or stalk where the leaf attaches to the plant — at regular intervals during the growing season. For a $4 fee per sample, the Agronomic Division’s plant, waste and solution lab in Raleigh can perform a chemical analysis that reveals the current nutrient needs of the crop.

Knowing nutrient levels within a crop is especially helpful for growers like the Searcys who raise high-value specialty crops. This information enables them to apply exactly the right amounts of fertilizer during critical periods of flowering and fruit set. Precise application saves money, protects the environment and optimizes yields.

Tissue sampling also allows growers to take care of nutrient deficiencies before symptoms appear. They can safeguard the success of their crop and, at the same time, protect the quality of their land and water resources by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.

Dillon’s explanation of the benefits of testing intrigued the Searcys. They asked him to come out the next week and show them how to take tissue samples. The following week he was there.

Dillon showed the Searcys how to take good, representative samples. The next week, he helped them interpret the results on their plant analysis report. As he helped Jeff take more samples, Donald went to buy the recommended fertilizer.

This process continued for weeks, and the Searcys still thought their tomato plants were too small. As harvest began, however, both men were surprised at how much fruit the plants produced.

When the Searcys saw how well their tomatoes were yielding, they began collecting tissue samples from their other crops as well. As the season progressed, Dillon often found other growers waiting for him at the Searcys’ farm. They all wanted to know about tissue sampling.

"I knew my time with the Searcys had been well spent when I showed up one day and found Donald explaining a plant analysis report to another grower," Dillon said.

By the fall, the Searcys and their neighbors were utilizing other Agronomic Division services, including nematode assay. Since he and his father don’t routinely use fumigants, Jeff pulled nematode samples from every field – just to make sure there wasn’t a potential problem for the next crop. He has become a great believer in the kind of insurance that agronomic testing offers.

Dillon wants to help growers protect their investments and improve production. He is available to visit or consult with any grower in his region who needs help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. He can be reached at (828) 765-5537 or by e-mail at

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


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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