The topsy-turvy 2014 North Carolina growing season came to an almost-complete end the first weekend in November, when many crop-producing areas experienced a killing frost that brought an end to growth in the field.
The end came later than expected. Over the past century, the first killing frost in North Carolina has usually fallen somewhere close to the beginning of the North Carolina State Fair, in the third week of October. In fact, North Carolina farmers have traditionally regarded the fair as celebration of the end of the harvest season.
But the fair ended before the harvest season this year. The crops that normally complete their growth in September and mid October — peanuts, cotton, soybeans and tobacco — still had good weather for growth until then, and the first frost didn’t take place until Nov. 3.
Many of them needed it — tobacco, particularly. The crop had been set back by a dry September, followed by heavy rains in early October that caused renewed nitrogen uptake and made field work of any sort difficult. Farmers worked frantically to get it out of the field before the first cold snap. But it wasn’t easy, said a group of farmers at the fair. Tim Yarbrough, Prospect Hill, NC, a flue-cured grower who was helping man the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina exhibit, said, “It will be very hard to get the last of this crop harvested and cured. Farmers will have a hard time getting into the field with enough machinery and labor to get the job done.”
In at least one major crop-producing county — Wilson, in eastern North Carolina — the tobacco harvest had been completed by Nov. 3, when the frost occurred. But there were a few negative effects for other crops, said Norman Harrell, Extension chairman in Wilson County, North Carolina.
“Any freshly dug peanuts on the ground may be in danger of frost damage,” he said that morning. Hopefully that wasn’t the case, but he was sure that farmers with peanuts still in the ground would quickly get into high gear to finish digging.
The frost may have affected sweet potatoes also. But cotton and soybeans, which had essentially stopped growing and were just waiting to be harvested, might actually have benefited from the drying effects of the frost.
“The beans are looking really good this year,” said Don Nicholson, regional agronomist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. “We had one grower in my region top 80 bushels this year.”
Good year for fruits, vegetables
Horticultural crops really took advantage of the lateness of the frost. “This season got off to a slow start because it was cool and wet, but by mid July we were caught up,” said Ronnie Best, market manager at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market in Raleigh. ”Then, with plenty of rain and a lot of hot days, we wound up with an extended season.”
Some fruits and vegetables did very well. There was sweetcorn at the farmers market well on into October. The supply of watermelons lasted till about the time the fair started, which is extremely late. All good things must come to an end, and this horticulture season ended on Nov. 3, except for a few cold-tolerant plants that may last till Thanksgiving.
Junior livestock goes prime time at the fair
The results of the Junior Sale of Champions, held on the evening of Oct. 18, were terrific in both attendance and media attention, said David Smith, deputy commissioner, North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Bidders paid a total of $167,700 for the top animals, the highest auction total ever.
The star of the show proved to be Zadock Jennings, age 3, of Kenly, who showed the reserve grand champion and grand champion meat goat in the North Carolina Born and Bred category.
The grand champion junior market steer was shown by Marty Wines, 18, of Leicester. Harris Teeter placed the winning bid of $35,000. Wines also showed the North Carolina Born and Bred champion steer, which was purchased by North Carolina Farm Bureau, Farm Bureau Insurance, Jones & Cox Cattle Company, Carolina Stockyards and Performance Livestock & Feed for $15,000.
The reserve grand champion was shown by Madison Boyd, 13, of Pinetown. Harris Teeter purchased the steer for $17,200.
The youth receive 60 percent of the purchase amount, while the remaining 40 percent goes to support youth scholarships and livestock programs in North Carolina.
Other agricultural highlights
• The “soybean fountain” display by the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association attracted thousands of viewers for a lesson on the importance of soybeans in the state’s agricultural economy.
• It was announced at the fair that a few days later, a new company planned to hold the grand opening of a manufacturing facility that will be used to dehydrate sweet potatoes that will be used as ingredients in various pet food products for the global market. Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration opened the doors on Sept. 30 to its factory in Farmville, NC. The company plans to create more than 50 jobs and has already invested more than $16 million in the project. Its goal is to create a new market for North Carolina sweet potatoes.