Congressional staffers for Agricultural Committee visit Rowan County farms

Published 12:04 am Saturday, August 27, 2022

By Amy-Lynn Albertson
N.C. Cooperative Extension

Sam Shumate from Rep. Ted Budd’s office and several other staffers from Washington, D.C. on the Agricultural Committee visited Patterson Farms on Thursday, Aug. 25, to learn more about their relationship with N.C. State University and Cooperative Extension and the N.C. Department of Agriculture. Randall Patterson expressed to the group how input costs for growing tomatoes had dramatically increased this year over last year.

Noting that any petroleum-based products had doubled if not tripled in price. Yet their tomatoes were selling for the same price they sold for two years ago. The cost of labor and lack of insurance were other areas of concern.

On the brighter side, the Patterson brothers highlighted their success in diversification with agritourism and being a multigenerational farm with their children returning to work on the farm. Cooperative Extension and N.C. State University work with Patterson Farm on problems like disease management. Currently, the university breeding program is working with the farm to test new varieties of tomatoes that are resistant to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. Later in the afternoon, the staffers visited Rockwell Farms.

Rockwell Farms is ranked No. 41 in the top 100 greenhouse operations in the United States by Greenhouse Grower Magazine.

Bryan Abramowski, vice president of operations and co-owner; Jason Roseman, vice president of sales and co-owner; and Mima Stoeva, director of growing operations, talked about how the business has grown over the last 30 years. They were asked what advice they would give someone looking to enter the ornamental greenhouse business today. Their answer was finding niche markets, like house plants or cannabis. Rockwell Farms grows over 1 million chrysanthemums for the retail industry. Staffer Joe Tesfayel thought they were exaggerating until he saw all the mums growing in the greenhouse. Rockwell Farms grows an incredible number of plants with 75 full-time employees and 20 seasonal workers. Bryan says they are a factory that produces plants. It is impressive to see this factory in action.

Mima, director of grower operations, said they had used close to 7 million gallons of water this year. Rockwell Farms recycles all its water with two retention ponds and uses drip irrigation, so water goes directly to the plant’s root systems, and with all the nutrients the plants need. Cooperative Extension and North Carolina State University work with Rockwell Farms on disease and weed identification problems.

N.C. State has been instrumental in helping Rockwell Farms use the IR4 program, which allows testing of pesticides off the label on crops for diseases and insects and seeing if they are effective in getting EPA labeling. When asked what was the most significant take-home they had for the day? Staffers said how much work was getting done with the mechanization of agriculture and how far these plants would travel. County Commissioner Jim Greene and County Extension Director Amy-Lynn Albertson were also on tour and shared the county’s plan to convert the Salisbury Mall into the West End Plaza Agricultural Center.

Staffers on the tour:

• Bubba White — Office of Rep. Rouzer,

• Deepa Patel — Office of Rep. Price,

• John Wynne — Office of Rep. Bishop,

• Adam Littleton — Office of Rep. Murphy,

• Joshua Bowlen — Office of Sen. Burr,

• Sam Shumate — Office of Rep. Budd,

• Joe Tesfayel — Office of Kathy Manning,

• Adele Borne — House Agriculture Committee Staff,

• Nadia Alston — Office of Rep. Ross,

Amy-Lynn Albertson is director of the Rowan County Extension.

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