Another Year, Another Success for NC AgVentures Program

A woman surrounded by vegetables

Elloit Seldner and wife Emma Hendel own Fairshare Farm in Pfafftown, NC. They received a grant last year for 10 Caterpillar tunnels to expand their produce operation.

NC State University’s NC AgVentures Grant Program is celebrating another successful year in the books. The program underwent a massive expansion this past year largely due to an increase in funding. With funding nearly doubling, NC AgVentures has been able to expand the number of counties, 18 to 46,  that are now eligible to receive grants. 

The grants, which are designed to improve and expand farm operations in North Carolina, are funded by the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Through partnering with NC State’s Extension branch, the commission has been able to distribute its resources to many deserving farmers across the state.

Part of what makes this program so successful is the hard work of the Extension agents that disseminate the information about the program to farmers. Extension agents are members of the NC State community located throughout counties in the state. Agents take on many roles, with their more prominent role in assisting and supporting farmers.

April Bowman, an Extension agent from Forsyth County, plays a vital role in the success of NC AgVentures. She shares how the program can help farmers in North Carolina. She says it’s great to see when farmers actually get approved for a grant.  

“It is a very exciting moment for them as well as myself,” said Bowman. “When they get approved for a grant, it is always just a nice moment to see their hard work get paid off. We get so many farmers with great ideas and it is nice just to get to work with them to achieve more for their farms.”

Extension agents are also responsible for providing an educational program in the county centered around the needs of the community’s farmers. They work to build relationships with the community that allow them to discern what these needs are. This can be done through holding community meetings, visiting local farms, or just working with farmers in an advisor role.

Once an extension agent himself, Bryant Spivey,  the Extension Director of Johnston County, spoke on how the job allowed him to make meaningful connections with people in his community through his work as an agent.

“It’s definitely produced an area for us to have new relationships and new connections,” Spivey said. “In extension, you get opportunities to help someone, whether it be with a crop that’s dying or you help them correct that, or maybe they got a problem with their livestock. But when you help them, usually, if you help them just one time and in some kind of substantive way, you make a friend for life. And so this has just given us another opportunity to help people in a substantive way that we didn’t have before.”

Man standing with pecan trees
Ben Byrd of Lakeview Pecans in Bailey NC, grafts pecan trees, grown in containers.. He received a grant last year to expand his greenhouse which will streamline production and improve plant quality.

William Upchurch, Executive Director of the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, spoke with high praise about the Extension agents and their efforts in assisting farmers with the application process.

“Extension agents serve a highly important role through communicating with North Carolina farmers,” Upchurch said. “We rely on them to fill in the holes wherever we come up short when needing to provide information.”

North Carolina communities are possibly the greatest beneficiaries of the NC AgVentures Grant Program. While farmers receive the money directly, the communities they live in benefit from the innovative ideas.

For example, Tim Webb, a 2019 grant recipient from Wilson County, used his funds to construct an agriculture education facility for his community. The recipient decided to expand his property with a shelter that would serve as a place to hold instructional classes. By doing this, the recipient was not only able to improve his community with a new place for many agricultural-learning opportunities, but he was also able to profit from the increased business that the facility brought him. 

In addition to individual grant projects, farmers can also apply for community grants. These project proposals help fund broader initiatives that benefit the communities at-large. Some of these projects can range from much needed updated equipment for farmers to funding research projects that could vitally help a group for farmers.

Susan Jakes, the Principal Investigator for the NC AgVentures Grant Program, outlined some of the projects that can often be funded with community grants.

“We’ve done several grants where we have done cattle handling equipment for the county,” Jakes said. “The cattle handling equipment allows the farmer to restrain and safely provide proper care such as ear tagging, vaccinating, and deworming. Four counties (Johnston, Wilson, Harnett, and Lenoir) have received community grants for cattle handling equipment that is rented to farms. (A livestock farmer with a large herd would own cattle handling equipment but for farms with small herds, it’s too expensive to purchase.)  Renting the equipment allows the farmer with a small herd to raise healthy livestock safely.”

NC AgVentures continues to move North Carolina agriculture forward. The next cycle for grant applications is expected to open in October 2020. For more information on grant eligibility and requirements, go to https://agventures.ces.ncsu.edu/application-for-ag-ventures-grant/

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