Perspectives Online

TTFC-supported programs strengthen state’s farm families

Julia Storm (left), CALS agromedicine information specialist, explains the efforts of the N.C. Agromedicine Institute, the AgriSafe Network of North Carolina, the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, Cooperative Extension and other partners to promote farm safety in North Carolina.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

Three College of Agriculture and Life Sciences programs — one new — received funding this year that enabled progress toward a stronger rural economy in North Carolina. Each is designed to strengthen the state’s farm families. And all were made possible by the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.

The TTFC is one of three entities created in 1998 from North Carolina’s share of the $4.6 billion Master Settlement Agreement between 46 states and the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturing companies. The purpose of the fund is to support initiatives to offset negative effects of the settlement on tobacco growers and tobacco-dependent communities.

Value-Added Cost Share Program
With a $1.2 million grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, N.C. MarketReady (the former Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture, based in Kannapolis) created the Value-Added Cost Share Program. The new program aims to help growers expand or transition into profitable value-added businesses.

“The face of North Carolina agriculture has changed dramatically over the past two decades, especially with the end of the federal tobacco program,” said Dr. Blake Brown, professor of agricultural and resource economics and director of N.C. Market Ready.

“This grant enables us to make value-added enterprises a reality and offer new alternatives to farm families, and we are extremely grateful to the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.”

The Value-Added Cost Share program works hand-in-hand with the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant by reducing the costs associated withprofessional services and equipment purchases that are not funded by the USDA grant.

The program has three components. In the fall seasons of 2009 and 2010, North Carolina producers are invited to apply for funding to assist with grant writing (up to $3,500) and enterprise feasibility assessment and business plan development (up to $20,000). The cost share program will reduce the costs associated with these professional services by about 50 percent.

In the spring seasons of 2010 and 2011, North Carolina producers who demonstrate a feasible enterprise can apply for equipment cost share funding.

AgriSafe and Certified Safe Farm programs
A two-year, $500,000 grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission will expand the AgriSafe Network of North Carolina program and establish a new component, the Certified Safe Farm program for North Carolina agriculture.

The AgriSafe Network of North Carolina and Certified Safe Farm of North Carolina programs combine health and safety components proven to result in lower health claims costs and safer, healthier farmers.

A long-term goal is to develop health and liability insurance discounts for farmers who successfully participate in the AgriSafe and Certified Safe Farm programs. In addition, project staff will work with advisers to explore other incentives, such as a cost-sharing fund to help offset the costs of making high-priority safety improvements on farms.

The program initially will be offered in Johnston, Duplin and Sampson counties, with the goal of expanding into the piedmont and western regions of the state.

Agribusiness Certification and Training Program
Offered by N.C. Cooperative Extension and the N.C. Small Business Technology and Development Centers, the Agribusiness Certification and Training program (ACT) provides Extension agents and others across the state with new skills to help guide clients who want to evaluate ideas for new agribusinesses.

In a Davidson County strawberry field, Extension’s Dr. Barclay Poling (kneeling) works with growers who participated in the ACT program.
Photo courtesy Amy-Lynn Albertson
As markets for agricultural products and services have changed over the years, farmers continue to ask agents for help evaluating new business ideas, conducting market research and developing business plans, said Gary Bullen, Extension associate in the CALS Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Bullen was one of the instructors for the recent Agribusiness Certification and Training program.

Five teams of four to six Extension agents and a few partners participated in training to learn how to help entrepreneurial farmers develop new business ideas. The program was sponsored by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission and the N.C. Southern Region Risk Management Education Center.

“The goal is to have these Extension agents and their colleagues as resources in their districts to help with business planning and marketing,” Bullen said.

Program participants attended three training sessions, worked in teams to develop a business plan for a real agribusiness and committed to conducting a business planning workshop in their regions.

Davidson County Agricultural Extension Agent Amy-Lynn Albertson said the training in business planning has been a great help to her as an Extension agent.

—Natalie Hampton and Suzanne Stanard