03/16/12 — Farmers look back at odd year

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Farmers look back at odd year

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 16, 2012 1:46 PM

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Matt Sanderson of Grantham won the wheat yield contest sponsored by the Wayne County Farmers Association with a yield of 119.01 bushels per acre.

Crop yield awards presented annually by the Wayne County Farmers Association underscored just how difficult last year was for local farmers -- the only award was for wheat.

"Last year was a challenging year," Kevin Johnson, Wayne County Cooperative Extension director, said during the association's Ladies Night banquet Thursday at the Wayne Center. "Everything started out with a boom. The first contest we have was the wheat yield. Guess what -- the best wheat crop that we ever had in Wayne County. All three of our winners were over 100 bushels, but after that things went south.

"If the drought didn't get it, the hurricane did. So the only contest we really had this year was with wheat."

Two of the wheat yield winners were unable to attend and Johnson joked that was what happens when the banquet coincides with good weather.

"Everybody has go fever and are ready to work in the fields," he said.

Any other year, the 119.01 bushels of wheat per acre Matt Sanderson of Grantham grew on his farm probably would have been a state record, Johnson said.

"This was a fantastic yield," he said. "As it was, it was third place in our district. When we picked that I was like, 'Matt is going a long ways on this one.' Turned out in our district someone picked 131 bushels and I think the state yield record, the most ever picked in North Carolina, was picked last year at 138 bushels. That is astronomical for wheat yields.

"I can tell you that traditionally Wayne County always has some of the highest wheat yields in the state. We have the right climate, the right soils."

Second place went to Harold Overman of Grantham with a yield of 108.74 bushels per acre. Third-place honors went to Steve Hooks of Fremont with a yield of 104. 92 bushel per acre.

The association presented $500 scholarships to: Kelsey Dee Fleming, Bridget Dianne Barnes, Paul Bradley Glover and Bryan Eugene Johnson, Charles B. Aycock High School; Patricia Faye Purvis, Southern Wayne High School; and Brian Christian Stewart, Spring Creek High School.

"We want to be involved with the community and we want to be good stewards," said Kelvin Norris, association president. "It is a pleasure for this organization to be giving out scholarships. We were just blessed to be able to give this money back out in our community. We know that education is one of the most important things in agriculture in keeping young people involved in it also."

The association has awarded $11,000 in scholarships since 2006, he said.

Johnson presented a revised edition of the We Dig It program. He noted that in 1790 that 93 percent of the people in the young country were farmers. Today it is only 15 percent.

As of 2012, one farmer feeds 155 people and people in America only spend 10 percent of their disposable income on food -- the lowest in the world.

Agriculture is the state's leading industry pumping $69.6 billion into the economy compared to another major industry, the military, that accounts for $10 billion annually, he said.

Wayne County is the fourth-largest agriculture county in the state accounting for 22.4 percent of the county's economy with a gross income of $763 million.

It also provides 20.79 percent of employment in the county with 11,831 jobs. Johnson noted that six of the county's top 10 employers are agriculture- or agribusiness-related.

While Wayne County is becoming more urbanized, 48 percent of the land in the county is still farmland. When managed forest land is added, the total tops 71 percent.

However, since 1950 farmland acreage has shrunk by 125,000 acres -- land that has been gobbled up by highways and shopping centers

Farmland is prime land for development because it is already cleared and well-drained, Johnson said. As such it is important that efforts continue to protect valuable farmland, he said.

"The county is very aware that farmland preservation is something that we have got to really address," Johnson said. "Its impact to our economy is important and we just can't afford to loose farmland, not like they have in Johnston County.

"It is important to keep these numbers and not their impact in our county."