Putting The Farm Bill To Work
> North Carolina > Nursery
To A Good Start
New to the NC ornamental industry, EQIP shows promise
hot days and cool nights in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
in North Carolina make the region ideal for growing nursery crops—ornamental
trees and shrubs. Their root balls wrapped in burlap, thousands
of shade trees and shrubs are transported all over the eastern United
States from Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and Wilkes Counties. Most
are grown in loamy, sandy soils in flood plains, raising concerns
about erosion, sedimentation and nutrients impacting water quality.
aware of the problem. For years, many have been doing as much to
reduce environmental impact as their expertise and financial resources
allow. But they need—and are starting to receive—help.
growers in the region began getting help in 2005 through the Environmental
Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), working with the Center for Agricultural
Partnerships (CAP) and North Carolina State University Cooperative
Extension agents. The EQIP program is administered by USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to support growers’
conservation efforts and environmentally friendly pest management
taking a simple, four-pronged approach,” said Russell Lyday,
district conservationist for NRCS in Burke and Caldwell Counties.
First is conservation
cover. “To prevent soil erosion and sedimentation, you want
to keep the ground covered with a growing crop,” said Lyday.
Second is a
vegetative filter strip of primarily grass between fields and streams
to filter runoff of sediment, nutrients and pesticides.
is helping growers take soil tests, and then apply nutrients according
to the soil tests and North Carolina State University recommendations
for the specific crop at hand. “So it’s there to serve
the crop, not leach or run off,” he said.
Last but certainly
not least are integrated pest management (IPM) practices. “You
don’t go out on the first of every month and spray not knowing
if it’s critical or not to do so,” said Lyday. “This
in particular is where a horticultural specialist from Cooperative
Extension plays an effective and important role,” he said.
IPM is more
challenging for ornamental growers because the numerous species
of trees and shrubs typically grown in a single field have many
different types of pest problems, requiring the help of outside
technical specialists. The way EQIP is currently configured, this
presents a problem when it comes to cost sharing on pest and nutrient
for cost-sharing, EQIP requires that this consulting work be done
by someone other than an NRCS representative,” said Lyday.
The problem is distance and small acreages.“It’s not
economical for these technical specialists, who might be 100 miles
away or more, to make 10 to 20 trips to small fields during growing
season,” he said.
For now, the
state and the USDA are providing assistance in this area in conjunction
with Cooperative Extension nursery crop specialists, but CAP and
NRCS plan to meet this fall with officials in Raleigh to attempt
to resolve the issue.
a nursery crop specialist with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Services said EQIP has been largely a pilot program with ornamental
growers in 2005.
has been done with nursery growers until now,” said Adkins.
“We’re working with three growers, each with five to
20 acres,” he said. “They have anywhere from just a
few species to up to 30 species in one contingent field.”
that most growers are receptive to the four-pronged approach NRCS
recommends. “Even though the cost-share is minimal when they
crunch the numbers, they see the environmental and economic impacts,”
said Adkins. “For the nursery industry, it’s not a carrot—these
are just good nursery practices.”
of North 40 Nursery near Morganton, a new EQIP participant, agrees.
“It has worked well, I believe, for everybody,” he said.
NRCS is encouraging
more farmers to learn about and participate in EQIP. “Our
intent is to work with CAP and the Extension Service to promote
these facilities and IPM in general through an educational program,”
said Lyday. “We’re planning tours to show the nursery
growers what these practices are, the simplicity of them, and the
benefits of them for improved farm management and better use of
financial resources,” he said. “After all, you spend
less money, time and labor putting out pesticides and nutrients
if you know you don’t need them.”
reported that this year, a Burke County farm has entered into a
contract to construct an agrochemical mixing building to store,
handle and load pesticides safely. Like others of its kind, the
facility will include operator safeguards as well—an emergency
shower and eyewash. He said an agrochemical mixing building has
already been contructed for an ornamental grower in McDowell County.
For now, Gragg
is focusing with Adkins on scouting for IPM, and he has installed
ground cover as vegetative filter strips. Although it’s early
in the game, he already expects benefits beyond environmental impact.
“I’m sure it’s going to help with costs,”
said Gragg. “The trees are going to grow better, and when
trees grow better you’re going to make more money,”
he said. “And the ground cover makes the fields look better,”
he said. “All the way around, it’s working.”