03/30/07 — Wayne could be home to regional farm center

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Wayne could be home to regional farm center

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 30, 2007 1:51 PM

With Wayne County in the middle of a six-county agricultural region that generates about $2 billion annually -- Wayne accounts for about $328 million annually itself -- it only made sense to Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, that he support the county commissioners' request for a Regional Agricultural Center.

"The agriculture community, I think, wants a place like this," Pate said.

The center, which Wayne County Commission Chairman John Bell said could be located on West Ash Street across from the State Employee's Credit Union, would house the county departments of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, the administration of the Cherry Research Farm Unit, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems -- a part of North Carolina State University and A&T State University -- the area office of the federal Natural Resources Commission and the regional offices of the United States Department of Agriculture.

"It would be a one-stop shop -- a place where information can be passed back and forth between the state and farmers and there can be cross-talk between agencies," Pate said.

And, Wayne County Cooperative Extension Director Howard Scott explained, Goldsboro is a perfect location for such a center because of its proximity to Cherry Research Farm.

"There's a tremendous amount of research going on out there. Other states and even other nations have come to that research station," he said. "This would give us an opportunity to bring together research, extension and other farm related services and give us the opportunity to really give our farmers the chance to learn about value-added crops.

"We're considered an urban county, but we're third or fifth (in agriculture) in the state, depending on how you look at it, so this is pretty significant."

Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, agreed, explaining that the center would go hand-in-hand with another piece of legislation he's sponsoring to increase funding for the North Carolina Specialty Crops Program, which helps small farmers diversify their crops. In it, he's asking for $600,000 over the next two years.

"We have a lot of agriculture in this area and a lot of family farms," he said. "I think we need to promote farming and as we transition away from tobacco, I think we need to figure out what else they can grow that will be profitable."

The Regional Agricultural Center bill, sponsored by Pate, Braxton and Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, is asking for $8 million to design and build the facility.

The estimated cost of the proposed 60,000 square-foot, "green" -- environmentally-friendly -- facility is $11.5 million.

According to the proposed legislation, the balance of the funds would be supplied by agencies such as the Golden LEAF Foundation and local governments. Pate also hopes that the United States Department of Agriculture would help foot the bill.

"I'm hopeful we can get it through. I think we might have to find some money in other places, but I'm hopeful," he said.

State Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, also has introduced the measure in the Senate.

Bell confirmed that the Wayne County Commissioners are committed to helping make the project a reality.

"We'll commit money to it. It'll be a gold mine for farmers," he said, estimating their share could be as much as $1 million. "What we're also hoping is that other counties (Wilson, Johnston, Greene, Lenoir, Duplin and Sampson) will see this and tag along with us.

"It'll be a great asset to this area."