Farmers Appreciation Breakfast focuses on safety, support for agriculture

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 13, 2015

By Hugh Fisher

SALISBURY — Thanking farmers for their contributions to the life of the county was the main goal of the second annual Farmers Appreciation Breakfast, held Thursday at Salem Lutheran Church.

About 70 local farmers, agricultural businesspeople and local leaders gathered at dawn for a country-style breakfast cooked and served by the Salem Lutheran men’s fellowship. The meal featured locally produced eggs and juice, among other ingredients.

Rowan County Cooperative Extension organized the event not only to honor farmers, but to provide them with useful information, County Extension Director Darrell Blackwelder said.

“Growers are going to be very busy in the next two or three months,” Blackwelder said. “This is the calm before the storm.”

That’s why Cooperative Extension chose mid-March for the breakfast, Blackwelder said.

And, just as religious leaders and legislators gather annually for breakfasts to learn about important issues, Blackwelder said, it’s important for Rowan County’s agricultural workers to get the appreciation they deserve, and facts they need to know.

Jessica Wilburn, nurse coordinator of the N.C. AgriSafe program, presented information on programs to provide health screenings and safety information to local farmers.

Wilburn, member of a cattle farming family, said she knows firsthand the struggles farmers face in a profession that can be dangerous.

“The more we can keep farmers safe and healthy, the better. Those are our goals,” Wilburn said.

Jeanie Moore, member of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce ambassador committee, brought greetings from the committee and talked about the Chamber’s efforts to engage the agricultural business community.

“We’re trying to re-create the relationship that was there a number of years ago,” Moore said.

The Chamber of Commerce has a committee devoted to engaging agricultural businesses. In 2014, Patterson Farm was the county’s Small Business of the Year, Moore said.

“What we hope to accomplish is to educate people on the role of local agriculture in our economy,” Moore said.

A Changing Vocation

For the farmers themselves, it’s easy to see how technology and changing times have altered the way they do business.

A lot of family farms have come and gone in the last few decades, and those that remain do the business of farming differently from how they once did.

“Our farm’s been in the family over a hundred years,” said Wayne Wilson. On his baseball cap was the name of Big Oak Angus farm, which he said he’s proud to represent.

“I’ve seen a lot of change, from tilling soil to no-till,” Wilson said. “I remember when 5-10-10 was about the only fertilizer you could get!”

Around the table, other farmers who work at the nearby N.C. Department of Agriculture Piedmont Research Station nodded in agreement.

“Today, you’ve got a prescription for every field, GPS for spreaders,” said Joe Hampton, supervisor at the Piedmont Research Station. “We take soil samples and enter the soil test information. You’re giving that plant exactly what it needs.”

Today, the farmers said, it’s common to see land yield 120 bushels of wheat per acre. “Back then, 30 bushels an acre? You’d call that good wheat,” Wilson said.

“Corn used to be 25, 30 bushels an acre,” Hampton said. Today, that amount has greatly increased, too.

Jessica Talley, 23, is part of a new generation of farmers. “I started when I was 18, at the Research Station as a temporary employee,” she said.

“I like research. I really like animals,” Talley said. She said she’s learned a lot about cattle farming from family and co-workers.

But farming is a difficult business, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong.

Blackwelder said it’s important to keep farmers informed about new technology and about services that are there to help them.

And he echoed the call for the community to support farmers and appreciate their role in North Carolina’s economy.

“The breakfast is a chance to see friends and renew acquaintances,” Blackwelder said, “and show our appreciation.”

Moore also said it’s important for the Chamber and others to showcase “the unique success we’ve had in our community around agriculture. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”


Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.