Twenty-one farmers – including five in Johnston County — have been named winners in a grant program aimed at supporting family farms. The NC AgVentures grants, ranging from $4,800 to $10,000, were awarded for innovative projects aimed at diversifying, expanding or implementing new entrepreneurial plans for farm operations.
The Johnston County winners are as follows:
- Brandon Batten, representing the sixth generation to work on the 600-acre family farm in Four Oaks. The farm produces tobacco, wheat, soybeans, corn, hay and beef cattle. The grant funds will be used to purchase an unmanned aerial system for advanced crop and field scouting to better visualize 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 NC 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 the sales of flue-cured tobacco and increase profitability with other row crops and livestock. To make the operation more efficient and reduce input costs, he will use the grant funds 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, soybean, small grains and cattle, but 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 funds 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 U-pick strawberry patch. With the grant award, the farm will purchase a cooler and handwashing station. The cooler will allow them to reduce spoilage and increase sales. In the future Davis plans to diversify with crops that can be profitable to the farm, grown on less land, and add variety to the area.
- Stoney Fork Farms, in Four Oaks. Leveled by a tornado in 2011, the farm had several mills. Grandson Jeremy Norris would like to rebuild the farm starting with a bin and pallet stringer operation using wood from the property and selling to local farms. The grant award will be used to purchase a sawmill.
The competitive grant program is funded through the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, created by the state General Assembly in 2000 tolessen the financial impact to farmers and tobacco-related businesses caused by the sharp decline of tobacco in the agricultural economy.
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.
In addition to awarding grants to individual farms, NC AgVentures also awarded two community grants, one to Pitt County Forage Growers for $3,800 and one to the Cattlemen’s Association of Harnett County for $8,700.
The grant program is administered by NC State Extension, part of NC State University. Extension helps create prosperity for North Carolina through programs and partnerships focused on agriculture, food and nutrition, and 4-H youth development. In cooperation with county governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, NC State Extension and N.C. A&T State University’s Cooperative Extension Program formN.C. Cooperative Extension, a bridge for research-based education and technology between the campuses and local communities.