Twenty-one farmers, including five in Johnston County, are winners in a grant program aimed at supporting family farms.
The N.C. AgVentures grants, ranging from $4,800 to $10,000, are for innovative projects aimed at diversifying, expanding or implementing new entrepreneurial plans for farm operations.
The Johnston County winners are:
▪ Brandon Batten, representing the sixth generation to work on the 600-acre family farm near Four Oaks. The farm produces tobacco, wheat, soybeans, corn, hay and beef cattle. The grant will purchase an unmanned aerial system for crop and field scouting to better see disease pressure, pest pressure and fertility in soils.
▪ James “Hunter” Langdon of Benson. Having grown up on a small family farm, Langdon knew from a young age that farming was the career he wanted to pursue. He started farming for himself in 2010 while pursuing a degree in agriculture science at N.C. State University. Tobacco had always financially carried the farm operation, but this past year, that flipped. He realized that he needed to rely less on flue-cured tobacco and increase profitability with other row crops and livestock. To make the operation more efficient and reduce costs, he will use the grant to purchase a large fertilizer tank and buy fertilizer in bulk.
▪ Jason Barbour of Four Oaks. Barbour, who has a degree in agribusiness and is a fourth-generation tobacco farmer, produces sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans, small grains and cattle. Last year, he added a crop of popcorn. Popcorn is different from sweet corn; it has a hard, moisture-resistant hull that surrounds a dense pocket of starch that will pop when heated. Popcorn is a whole grain, not a vegetable. Barbour found a distributor last year who requested twice the amount of popcorn for 2017. With the grant, Barbour will purchase a popcorn cleaner.
▪ Michelle Pace Davis of Clayton. Tobacco has been the staple crop on the century-old family farm Davis grew up on, but this year she turned one field into a pick-your own strawberry patch. With the grant award, the farm will purchase a cooler and hand-washing station. The cooler will allow Pace to reduce spoilage and increase sales.
▪ Stoney Fork Farms near Four Oaks. Leveled by a tornado in 2011, the farm had several mills. Grandson Jeremy Norris would like to rebuild the farm, making storage bins and and pallets using wood from the property and selling to local farms. The grant will purchase a sawmill.
The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service administers the grant program with money from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Farmers in 18 counties – Martin, Wilson, Pitt, Edgecombe, Harnett, Nash, Forsyth, Stokes, Surry, Rockingham, Yadkin, Guilford, Sampson, Johnston, Greene, Lenoir, Duplin, and Wayne – were eligible.