More than 110 people came out to a Cooperative Extension beef tour that’s become a summer tradition in the North Carolina’s Piedmont. Held in southern Franklin County this year, the Five-County Beef Tour took visitors to farms representing the diversified nature of North Carolina cattle operations.
The tour took place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday June 11. While farmers and other agriculture professionals came from across the state to take part, most participants were from the five neighboring counties that the tour rotates through: Franklin, Vance, Granville, Warren and Wake.
Martha Mobley, who led the tour, said this year’s participation was higher than it has been in the 27 years that she’s served as a Franklin County Cooperative Extension agent. She said Cooperative Extension has held the tour each summer since the early to mid 1980s with the support of livestock and cattlemen’s associations in the five counties.
The first stop on the 2015 tour was Rolling M Acres Farm in the Pilot community. There, Mike Makar and his family raise Black Angus cattle along with poultry. Dr. Jim Arends, of S&J Farms Animal Health, discussed research on pesticide products aimed at reducing face flies, a horse and cattle pest that resembles the house fly, and Steve Hoyle, of NC State University’s crop science department, covered methods of managing various weeds found in farm ponds.
In addition, Extension area specialized poultry agent Dan Campeau talked about the use of poultry litter as pasture fertilizer. While poultry litter can smell for a couple weeks after it is applied, it offers several advantages over chemical fertilizers: It’s five to eight times cheaper, he said, it adds organic matter to the soil and the slow way it releases nutrients is better for plants.
After leaving Rolling M, the tour stopped at Ray Family Farms, where Chad Ray discussed cattle operations that have been part of their farm for three years.
“Our goal here is an ambitious one,” he said. “Our goal is to be able to survive and to show young people how to make a living on a small family farm,” noting that the farm is home to a 72-member 4-H club.
Ray and his wife, Jodi, sell their products directly to consumers through an on-farm market, and they also have an online store that’s “open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Chad told the farm visitors.
“I don’t believe a small farmer will succeed at a Saturday farmers market. I don’t believe it’s enough,” he said. “You’ve got to think bigger.”
While the Rays have a diversified operation raising pastured beef, pork, poultry and eggs, as well as vegetables, the next tour stop was more highly specialized. At Springfield Angus in Louisburg, retired surgeon Dr. Phil Goodson has a 39-year-old Black Angus cattle herd with a national reputation. The farm uses both in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer to maximize the genetics of his top cows.
Others who spoke at the farm included Amanda Schaller and William Byrum of the U.S. Department of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who discussed the Conservation Stewardship Program, and Sgt. T.R. Askew of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, who answered questions about regulations regarding livestock transportation and farm equipment. In addition, Kevin Ogles, also of NRCS, gave a rainfall simulation demonstration that dramatically showed the erosion that can occur on grazing lands that aren’t well managed when compared to those that are.
Bryan Blinson, the executive director of the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association, closed out the tour with an optimistic luncheon speech on the trends in the cattle industry.
“If it’s not a good time to be excited about being in agriculture, you are not very excitable,” he said. “And now is as good a time in the beef industry as its ever been,” with U.S. beef in high demand both worldwide and locally.
It’s a good time, he said, to consider ways to become more efficient in marketing and production, and the tour provided good insights into both new and old methods that are working.
“Whether it’s from a production standpoint or a marketing standpoint or just an attitude standpoint, if you’ve always done it the same way and it’s worked for you, I would encourage keeping a lot of those components in place,” Blinson said, “but try something new every once in a while. You might find it works for you, and maybe it works even better.”
Participant Molly LaHay reported being especially pleased with what she’d been able to learn on the tour. “I was able to talk to many folks from different points of their farming journey. Some were just getting into it, learning and being introduced to all these topics, while I saw many old farmer friends who have been in the cattle business many years,” she said. “I feel like Martha (Mobley) really met a need with this event.”
– D. Shore