ARE Road Trip Down East

Logan Stanley holds Black Gold Farms potatoes.

ARE students, faculty, staff and other ag-vocates boarded a bus bright and early on Tuesday, June 26th to visit three farming operations in Columbia, NC, located in Tyrrell County in the Northeastern area of the state.  The trip aimed to give students an opportunity to explore careers and network with agricultural professionals, as well as to allow ARE faculty to interact with alumni.

The first stop was Cherry Farms Seed Company where the group heard from Sandi Smith and owner David Brickhouse. Retired owners Ken Cherry and Brain Ashford also spoke to the group about the operation. Cherry Farms Seed Company partners with local growers to produce seed for national brands. Through the Pre-Foundation program they contract with biotechnology companies to test seed varieties that are not yet ready for commercial production. They also produce advanced varieties that are available for commercial use. They clean and treat the seed in their facilities before shipping it to the companies that sell directly to farmers. The group also learned some of the history of the land and region from Joe Landino. Most of the land was in timber before the 1970s, and was then cleared to produce farmland. There is an expansive system of canals, ditches, and pump stations that help regulate the water on the land. Tyrrell County is one to six feet above sea level in various areas and has a high water-table, so the ground does not absorb water well. Water has to be controlled in this are for successful land use.

Students viewing the seed color sorter in the processing facility at Cherry Farms Seed Company.


Representatives from Cherry Farms, Black Gold Farms, Coastal Carolina Farms, the NC Soybean Producers Association, TerraGreen Precision Landscapes, AgCarolina Farm Credit, Crop Production Services (CPS), Harvey Fertilizer and Gas, Green Valley Farms, Coastal AgroBusiness, Foster Farms, Scuppernong Farms, and Cahoon Farms joined the group for lunch at Cherry Farms Seed Company. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences was represented by Rich Bonanno. Additionally, many ABM alumni from both the 4-year program and the Agricultural Institute came to lunch to visit with us.

Next, the group visited Black Gold Farms to watch the potato harvest process. Chris Hopkins, the manager for many of Black Gold Farms’ locations on the East Coast, took the group on the field tour. Hopkins said that they produce chipping potatoes, as well as some sweet, red, and russet potatoes. The field the tour visited was planted in a variety of potatoes specific to Frito-Lay. The potatoes from that particular field could not be sent to Utz, Wise, or any other chip brand, although Black Gold Farms does ship some other varieties to those companies. The group then visited a field that had “tiling” installed to help control water. Tile is corrugated pipe that was buried about three feet underground and was spaced 25 feet apart. The tile is connected to a pump that can either pump water to the field for irrigation or help pull water out of the field for drainage. This lowers the water table which is crucial because when the water table is too high, proper root development and growth of the plants cannot occur.


Chris Hopkins (left) explains the potato harvest process and shares details about the ideal chipping potato.


The group also visited Black Gold Farms’ potato grading facility where potatoes are taken after they are dug. After being off-loaded they are rinsed and scrubbed clean by machines. They then pass by the grading table where workers pick out the ones that are bad or do not meet the criteria set by the potato chip companies. After this, they are loaded onto trucks to be taken to potato chip processing facilities where they become chips within one to two days!

The final location we visited was Bryan and Wesley Foster’s Coastal Carolina Farms. Bryan and Wesley are both Agricultural Institute graduates. They have about 3,200 acres where they grow corn, soybeans, and wheat. The grain is sold to various companies: some corn will become animal feed and the wheat that is milling quality will be turned into flour. The operation has two grain elevators through their company, Lake Phelps Grain. The granaries are also buying stations for other farmers to sell their crops.

The tour was fun, informative, and a great networking opportunity for the participants. ARE would like to extend its most appreciative thanks to all the agribusinesses who supported the tour and to AgCarolina Farm Credit for sponsoring lunch. A special thanks is due to Sandi Brickhouse Smith for organizing the tour stops and lunch.

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