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NorthCarolina blacklands farm managers tour

TIM APPELBOOM describes automated water monitoring system during the Blacklands Farm Managers Tour.

Overflow crowd attends North Carolina field day

Beaufort County, North Carolina Extension Coordinator Rod Gurganus stepped to the microphone at last week’s Blacklands Farm Managers Tour and gave the message every Extension agent in America would like to give.

To paraphrase: “The crowd is huge, we don’t have enough wagons to get everyone to the field, but we’ll get you there, even if some of us have to walk.”

And, walk we did, literally hundreds of us, most shunning the covered wagon pulled by trucks and tractors. The weather was great, the fellowship was rewarding and the exercise no doubt did us all some good.

At the end of the day, the 43rd annual Blackland Farm Managers Tour was the biggest in recent memory. Not only was it big in scope, but it was big in timely information, delivered by an array of state and county Extension leaders.

On this day it didn’t matter whether corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat — even grain sorghum was at the top of the list, because there was good information on all those crops and more.

Galen Ambrose wasn’t in charge of this year’s tour — the first time in a long time, but his legacy remained. Galen retired a while back from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, having worked on many of the 43 annual tours.

His replacement, Rod Gurganus, is significantly ‘shorter in the tooth’ than Galen, but comes armed with a bevy of old and new communication tools, including tweets, blogs and likely others that I don’t know about. The combination of word of mouth all the way to social media had a positive effect on farmers and agri-business leaders in the black lands of eastern North Carolina — they came out in the hundreds.

Likely, the real key was all the time and hard work an army of folks put in to get research plots just right and to identify timely topics and well-respected state and county Extension leaders to deliver comments.

By the time opening ceremonies began, the crowd had already far exceeded the capacity of the spacious equipment shed provided by host farmers Clay and Charly Respess.

The field day consisted of three stops, each packed with big hitters, from North Carolina State, like Ronnie Heiniger and Jim Dunphy, even a guest appearance by Virginia Tech Soybean Specialist David Holshouser. Some of the lesser known county agricultural leaders, like Frank Winslow and Lance Grimes got plenty of attention because of their knowledge of challenges particular to farmers in the blacklands of eastern North Carolina.

Packed with big hitters

Though the Blacklands Farm Managers Tour is the oldest event of its kind in North Carolina, it’s not the only one. The 18th annual Northeast Ag Expo was held the last week in July, and it too produced a large crowd of farmers and agri-industry people.

Next year there will likely be even better correlation between the two events. Communications people from North Carolina State University were working away at both field days to produce a promotional piece for the events.

I don’t know the specifics, other than it will be a promotion for both tours, Whether or not that means there will be some coordination among the dozen or so county agents in both parts of North Carolina, who are primarily responsible for putting on these field days, I don’t know. I hope so.

I also hope the administrators back in the Ivory Tower in Raleigh recognize and reward the folks who work so hard to put North Carolina State’s best agricultural foot forward to their constituency. Having worked at a Land-Grant institution most of my working life, I know how these kinds of efforts can be over-looked.

Knowing the folks who are at the helm of the Department of Agriculture and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in North Carolina, I’m confident that won’t be the case.

So kudos to the North Carolina State Cooperative Extension System, especially to all the men and women in the county offices up and down the coast, who worked so hard to make the Northeast Ag Expo and the Blacklands Farm Managers Tour big successes this year.

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