Our 2015 Field Research Projects with 2022 Updates!

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broccoli crop in white plastic covered rows

8/17/2022 – I wrote this post in 2015. Interesting to see what we were doing then and what has continued and not. I made those updated notations below in BLUE.


Developing an East Coast Broccoli Industry-this project ends in August 2022

90% of all broccoli consumed in the USA is grown in California and Mexico. It is then packed on ice and shipped all over the country, resulting in increased food miles, greenhouse gases, and reduced income opportunities for regional farmers. We are collaborating with a team of public institutions, private seed companies, economists, and production specialists to establish a regional food network for broccoli from Maine to Florida. We are entering the fifth year of this project which aims to move production from isolated areas in the East Coast to a robust, year round market that will provide a more stable income stream to East Coast broccoli farmers. There are large trials, focusing on summer production (thus the white plastic) at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville and three on-farm studies in Henderson County. This project is funded by a Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) grant through USDA-NIFA.
row of hops in hop yard

NC Hops Project (this project has morphed into a hops breeding project 2022)

The goal of this project is to determine if hops can be grown in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and if so, which varieties are best suited for our growing conditions. We are entering our fifth year of a hops variety trial, growing 12 varieties which were chosen because of characteristics of potential high yield, resistance to pests and disease, and brewer interest. The hop yard is located at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills river. Each summer we host a Hop Yard Field Day where we invite the public to tour the hop yard, hear more about our research, and ask questions. This year we are also offering monthly hop tours that you can register for on Eventbrite. This project was funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block grant administered through the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That grant has expired so we are currently maintaining this hop yard without any funding. If you would like to support this project, please consider making a donation and becoming a Friend of our program
rows of cucumber plants

Organic Cucurbit Breeding Project (the NC phase of this project has ended, but breeder at Cornell is still at it in 2022)

The goal of this project is to improve the management strategies of the three major pests and diseases that affect cucurbit production on organic farms, including cucurbit downy mildew, the striped cucumber beetle, and aphid vectored viruses. These pests and diseases severely limit organic production of organic cucurbits. We are in our second year of the major field plot aspects of project. The North Carolina field plot is located in the certified organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. Researchers are using existing germplasm to breed high quality cucumber, melon and squash open pollinated (OP) cultivars with tolerance to common pests and diseases and subsequently select the breeding lines that best deal with these pests. We are engaging extensively with farmers to facilitate adoption of our findings and to enhance and support the growth of organic cucurbit production in the Southeast. This is a multi-state, multi-year project funded by a Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant through USDA-NIFA.
woman making notes in broccoli field trial

Participatory Screening of Organic Broccoli Varieties (this project has ended; report on OFRF website)

The demand for local, organic broccoli is huge. In fact, the current supply gap of organic broccoli is over 1 million pounds which is equivalent to over $2 million. Because of higher elevation, farmers in western NC are in a unique position to grow broccoli throughout the summer months when it is too hot to produce it in the rest of the Southeast. Farmers know the importance of variety selection in vegetable production, so with funding from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), we embarked on a four year study that involves farmers in variety selection, testing, and evaluation of up to 29 different broccoli varieties. Through this participatory screening process, in addition to multiple workshops, farmers are gaining valuable insight into organic broccoli production and marketing. This year we are working with regional organic growers to trial the best varieties from the research station trials on farms. One of the trials is located on the certified organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. The other three trials are on organic farms in Henderson County.

Stevia Research (Our mountain studies are completed)

Heading into our second year, we are growing stevia at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville to determine if this is a viable crop for farmers in Western North Carolina. Industry analysts predict stevia could command one third of the $58 billion market for sweeteners, which poses an opportunity for farmers in North Carolina. Most of the stevia on the market is grown in China and South America, but already farmers in parts of the Southeastern USA are experimenting with this crop. It may serve as a substitute for former tobacco farmers because the same planting equipment, harvesters, drying barns, and loaders that are used in tobacco production can also be used in stevia production. This project is funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant administered by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and with the support and cooperation of Sweet Green Fields.
test plots

Organic Tomato Breeding Project (We are involved in several organic tomato breeding projects in 2022 and these will continue)

We are launching the first year of this multi-state project to breed tomatoes specifically for organic production. Our site is the main site for evaluating how varieties and new breeding lines hold up under intense disease pressure from late blight, early blight, and Septoria. The study is located in the certified organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. This project is funded by a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant.
two researchers preparing to plant seedlings

Organic Wash Solutions Project (this project is completed)

We are part of a multi-state project to develop organic products for use in cleaning produce; as you would use in a tomato dump tank. Our part of the project is to grow organic tomatoes and lettuce for testing the new solutions. These are grown in the certified organic research unit on the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. This project is funded by a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant.


Echinacea (this project is complete)

Echinacea is one of the most widely consumed and well-known medicinal herbs. In 2012 we initiated a three year field trial at Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River and the Upper Piedmont Research Station in Reidsville to determine the effects that geographic location has on the chemical composition of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia. Jennifer Crumley earned her Master’s degree with this project. This year we are evaluating some selected plants from the previous trials that might lead to a new breeding effort. AmwayNutrilite funded this project.
native plants and medicinals

Medicinal Herbs, Chinese Herbs, and Native Plants (we continue to have a very active program in all of these. Look for updates on our website)

A strong focus of our program is growing medicinal herbs for commerce as well as the importance of native plant conservation through cultivation. We hold regular workshops on many topics including: connecting medicinal herb growers and wild-harvesters to local, regional, national, and international buyers; proper post-harvesting handling of medicinal herbs; training extension agents and other agricultural educators on medicinal herb production; as well as hand-on workshops on seed and root propagation. We are also maintaining our Chinese medicinal herb plots from a current project. We do not currently have funds for any of these projects. If you are interested in supporting them, please consider making a donation and becoming a Friend of our program.
people in truffle orchard

Truffle Research (We harvested our first truffles in 2017 and continue to every year. Look for new posts about it)

We continue to maintain and monitor our truffle orchards at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. We are growing filbert trees inoculated with Black Perigord truffle. The first orchard was planted in 2010, which means we could start to see truffles emerging soon. We had two trained truffle hunting dogs in the orchards this winter to detect if truffles are growing just under the soil surface (none there yet!). We are anxiously awaiting harvesting these prized mushrooms and determining if this is a profitable opportunity for regional growers. We are starting a new project working with growers this year to evaluate methods of testing for colonization of the orchard by the truffle organism. The project is funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant administered by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
woodland scene on a foggy day

WNC Farm Link (This project has morphed into a statewide program called NC Farmlink and is now a permanent NC Extension program)

The vision of WNC Farm Link is to have a ‘resilient agricultural region where farmers have affordable options for accessing farm and forest land to create sustainable farm operations, where landowners have viable opportunities for keeping their land in farming, and where agriculture continues to be an integral part of our economy, environment, and community in Western North Carolina.’ WNC Farm Link works toward this vision by connecting farmers who are seeking land for ownership or lease with landowners who have land available. Our employee resides in the office of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in Asheville (this has changed). More information is available at ncfarmlink. This project is funded by a federal Rural Jobs grant awarded by three federal agencies.
mixed planting

Biodynamic Research (unfortunately, we have not been able to obtain funding to continue this research, but we would like to!)

With the growing demand for Biodynamic produce, two years ago we began trying to initiate collaborative projects with Demeter USA and other organizations and individuals involved in Biodynamic production. Farmers who grow Biodynamically have reported higher yields and less disease and insect pressure, and we want to know the science behind these practices. We are currently exploring funding sources for long-term research projects, but in the meantime we are continuing to educated farmers to Biodynamic concepts as well as offer opportunities to enhance the knowledge of those more familiar with Biodynamics. We do not currently have funds for this project. If you are interested in supporting it, please consider making a donation and becoming a Friend of our program.
Reviewed and updated by Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University.