Bertie County farmer: Investment in Extension and research yields big-bang gains

Colerain farmer and agribusiness owner Norman Perry is not a fan of what he calls big government. But when it comes to public funding for North Carolina agricultural research and extension, he’s sold.

The money that goes to North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service “is some of the best bang-for-the-buck money that you can achieve,” he said.

“It keeps us going most efficiently. And, bottom line, it helps us profit. And when farmers profit, the money rolls in the community — it turns over and over,” he added. “It’s a lot of grease in the capitalistic system that we live in.”

Today, Perry farms about 2,300 of row crops with his cousin. They grow cotton, peanuts, corn, soybeans and wheat, and they have a timber operation and a fertilizer company with a peanut-buying station.

A 1972 N.C. State University graduate in agricultural economics, Perry started farming in 1975 after a brief career in banking. He’d worked on farms as a child – mainly pulling tobacco – but, he said, “I didn’t know much at that time.”

Taking the attitude that when you don’t know something, it’s best to ask someone who does, he quickly came to rely on Cooperative Extension for recommendations ranging from marketing and budgeting to production.

“The folks in Extension are very smart and competent in solving the multitude of problems we encounter on a daily basis,” he said. “They are excellent, excellent sources of information. World-class.”

To explain what he means, Perry cited efforts to help farmers deal with what’s often been called a “monster” weed – glyphosate-, or Roundup-, resistant Palmer amaranth. The weed spreads quickly and can take over a field in short order.

N.C. State University Extension specialists as well as county agents have done a good job, Perry said, in helping farmers keep the weed out of their fields. They’ve recommended that farmers carefully time herbicide applications and use herbicides with different modes of action. Extension also emphasizes the importance of detecting the emergence of any Palmer amaranth early and carefully removing and destroying the weed.

Managing weeds is just one of the challenges that farmers face when it comes to maximizing their yields and, thus, their profits, Perry said.

“Farming is really not backbreaking work, but it’s hard in the sense that you have to juggle so many things. Inefficient farmers who haven’t been onboard with the 21st century farming practices haven’t lasted,” he said. “You have to be a marketer. You’ve got to be a finance guy. You’ve got to be a business guy. You’ve got to be a mechanic. A diagnoser of problems. A personnel manager. Plus you are growing a garden. So it’s challenging.

“You have to be on top of your game to do it well, and Extension and research are vitally important in helping us do that,” he said. “They help us be efficient, more profitable. In the end, they help keep us in business.”

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