Extension office provides annual update on operations

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Rowan County’s Cooperative Extension Office is bolstering an already strong local agriculture economy, according to a presentation made to commissioners Monday.

County Extension Director Darrell Blackwelder on Monday presented an annual report on his agency’s activities to the heads of county government. Many of his agency’s programs in 2014 showed strong participation, and it’s continuing into the current year, Blackwelder said.

Rowan County’s master gardener’s program was one of the several he cited. In his presentation, Blackwelder said the program donated 1,537 volunteer hours on various Rowan County projects. The hours equate to approximately $31,100, he said, citing an hourly wage of $20.25 per hour.

One of the projects was urban horticulture trials of grafted tomatoes in raised beds.

A Market Chef cooking competition was another example of a Cooperative Extension Office program he cited. As a part of the competition, seven chefs competed in a three-round series.

Blackwelder said the program helped increase farmer’s market attendance and competition participation.

He said 2014 also represented the third year of his agency’s Piedmont Farm School, which has a waiting list for participants in 2015.

Aside from his agency’s programs, several employees in the extension office also received praise from Blackwelder. He said Sarah Drake, who works in 4H development, has increased the number of clubs in Rowan County. The 4H program reached 1,931 youth in 2014, he said.

Thomas Cobb, Blackwelder said, helped Rowan County’s Dairy Quiz Bowl Team place fifth nationally. Cobb has also played a part in helping revitalize the Rowan County Cattlemen’s Association.

In total, Blackwelder said Rowan County’s Cooperative Extension Office had 24,584 non face-to-face contacts and 12,077 face-to-face contacts in 2014.

Last year, Blackwelder and the extension office focused on saving money for squash farming by conducting research trials at the Piedmont Research Station. In 2015, he said the extension office would concentrate its attention on broccoli and pumpkins.

As basic statistics to gauge Rowan’s agricultural standing, Blackwelder said 983 farms exist in Rowan County, which comprise 115,942 acres. Rowan is fourth overall in North Carolina for dairy production and eighth in beef, he said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246