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Ag chief impressed with farm tunneling's potential

Ag chief impressed with potential for longer seasonsBy Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
Experimental high tunnels a few miles from Salisbury will change the way North Carolina farms, predicted the state’s top agriculture official.
Steve Troxler, N.C. agriculture commissioner, spent Tuesday at the Piedmont Research Station, talking to farmers and tasting strawberries grown under plastic-covered, 150-foot long tunnels.
“This tunnel technology is going to open up a lot of avenues for other fruit and vegetable production that we’ve never been able to do in North Carolina because of our growing season,” Troxler said. “With our proximity to markets on the East Coast, this sets North Carolina up to be a major player.”
Tunnels have increased the strawberry growing season from eight weeks to six months, nearly tripling the number of berries harvested from one plant. Patterson Farm could become the first commercial grower to test the tunnels next year.
Farmers in Europe grow all kinds of produce under tunnels.
More than 80 officials, farmers and scientists from N.C. State University and the N.C. Research Campus attended the first strawberry field day at the Research Station.
The event is usually held near Raleigh, but organizers moved it to Rowan County this year so farmers could see the tunnels and hear directly from scientists.
“Everyone was very impressed with the tunnels and the work that we’re doing here,” said operations manager Andy Myers. “It may be of profit to them in the very near future.”
Troxler said he’s followed the experiment since the day the tunnels went up three years ago and has stopped by for a taste test in the winter.
“When you’re getting fresh North Carolina strawberries in November and December, you feel like you’re stealing,” he said.
Researchers directing the tunnel project were able to bring the strawberries through two massive freezes this year, Troxler said.
“This is going to be a part of the future of agriculture in North Carolina,” he said. “We are right on the threshold of getting this technology to the farmers.”
Dr. Johnny Wynne, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, spoke at the field day, as well as five N.C. State scientists who work closely with the tunnel project.
Growers learned everything from the best type of mulch to use in tunnels to how to control biological mites.
The Piedmont Research Station has become a laboratory for agricultural studies done at the N.C. Research Campus, a $1.5 billion biotechnology complex in Kannapolis. N.C. State is one of eight universities with a presence on the campus.
With the resources now available in Kannapolis, “there are so many possibilities,” Troxler said.

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