RALEIGH, N.C. — Seven projects aimed at boosting crop production and farm income in the state are receiving half a million dollars in grants from the New and Emerging Crops Program.
“These projects represent an investment in the future of North Carolina agriculture, as these projects seek to develop new opportunities for farmers,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “This research will help farmers explore the viability of certain crops in the state, with the goal of boosting the overall ag economy.”
The New and Emerging Crops Program began with General Assembly approval in 2018. Through $500,000 in grants, the program advances its mission of identifying potential new crops, value-added products and agricultural enterprises and providing the agricultural research, marketing support, and education necessary to make these crops commercially viable and profitable for North Carolina’s growers and agribusinesses.
Below is a list of grant amounts, recipients, titles and descriptions for each of the projects awarded through the New and Emerging Crops Program in 2023:
• $20,000 to N.C. State University’s Department of Horticultural Science for a two-year project titled Adapting Bambara groundnuts to North Carolina. The Bambara groundnut is a grain legume originating in West Sub-Saharan Africa with an underground growth habit similar to a peanut. Bambara nuts are rich in carbohydrates, proteins and oils and have been sourced by companies as an ingredient for alternative protein products. The purpose of this project is to evaluate 290 germplasm accessions to determine the suitability of Bambara groundnut production to different growing environments in North Carolina and also to select genetic material that could be used to initiate a breeding program.
• $57,467 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences to address Agronomic and Pest Management for Organic Sunflower. Organic black oilseed sunflower production could serve as an alternative crop in organic field cropping systems and offer market diversification opportunities for North Carolina farmers. This one-year project will develop sustainable nitrogen recommendations for organic black oilseed sunflowers, determine ideal plant populations, and quantify the activity of commercially available organic insecticides against sunflower moth larvae.
• $95,608 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences to support a one-year project titled De-risking Early Adoption of Sesame Production for NC Farmers. This project will build on 2021-22 sesame research, which generated significant agronomic knowledge and interest from growers, seed companies and processors. The goal of the project is to de-risk farmer early adoption of sesame production and to investigate challenges observed in prior sesame research. This project will collaborate with farmers and research stations to expand sesame acreage across North Carolina and collect data on a larger scale, evaluate the feasibility of sesame production in a double cropping system, identify and evaluate herbicide options for sesame, and develop crop production budgets for this new crop.
• $75,000 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences for a one-year project titled Developing Agronomic Management Strategies for Fiber Hemp. North Carolina has the potential to be a national leader in fiber hemp processing and end use manufacturing; however, several agronomic challenges must be addressed for the state’s farmers to meet the growing demand for this new crop. This project will address farmer-voiced concerns by developing sustainable nitrogen recommendations for fiber hemp, exploring the potential to grow fiber hemp in a double crop system, developing sustainable weed management systems, developing plant population recommendations and developing retting time recommendations.
• $96,925 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science for a two-year project titled NC Grown Chinese Medicinal Herbs. The demand for domestic production of high-quality medicinal herbs by consumers, herb buyers and practitioners is increasing. North Carolina is uniquely suited to the production of many traditional Chinese medicinal herb species because of geographical similarity; however, production information and recommendations for North Carolina growers are limited. This project will build on
current research by the N.C. Alternative Crops and Organics Program to expand opportunities for production and sale of select traditional Chinese medicinal herbs by expanding field trials to a larger scale, increasing domestically available propagation stock, providing samples of North Carolina-grown herbs to buyers, facilitating buyer-grower relationships and developing production recommendations.
• $75,000 to NCSU’s Department of Crops and Soil Sciences for a one-year study titled Rice Development in North Carolina, a continuation of previously funded rice projects. There is a growing client base for artisan and heirloom agricultural products. Carolina Gold Rice, grown on several farms in southeastern North Carolina from the late 1600s to the mid-1800s, is one of the specialty crops sought by this growing market. This project will generate information needed to increase rice production opportunities in North Carolina by developing rice production factsheets for N.C. growers and developing an elevation-flood model to evaluate new land for rice production. The study also aims to identify dike and levy infrastructure needs. This project will also evaluate rice hull waste from rice milling for use as a land-applied amendment.
• $80,000 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science to fund Transplant Quality for Strawberry Greenhouse Production for two years. Soilless strawberry production in greenhouse systems is increasing. A key component to the success of this production system is timely grower access to transplants that have been conditioned for fruit production. This project will support an emerging North Carolina soilless strawberry industry and a soilless strawberry nursery industry by developing environmental protocols for the development of conditioned transplants, sometimes called tray plants. The environmental protocols to create North Carolina-grown tray plants will be validated with industry partners and greenhouse growers, and findings will be used to develop production guides.
–Hunter Barrier & Sam Brake, NCDA&CS