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North Carolina Specialty Crops Program

MEDICINAL HERBS FOR COMMERCE PROJECT (visit project website)

Medicinal Herbs for Commerce LogoThe Medicinal Herbs for Commerce project teaches farmers how to effectively produce, harvest, package, and market medicinal herbs. Project staff recruit buyers, identify the herbs to be grown, obtain the seeds, and guide the growers throughout the production and marketing process. Growers learn how to communicate with buyers and secure markets for their crops. This project is part of the North Carolina Specialty Crops Program, a cooperative program between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University and the Marketing Division of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The 2005 project is funded with grants from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, the Golden Leaf Foundation, the NC Rural Economic Development Center through the Land of Sky Regional Council, and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Plant Industry Division.

Project History
The project began in 2004, when seventeen farmers from across North Carolina were selected to receive technical assistance, seed, and a small grant to produce at least one acre of California poppy, dandelion, purple coneflower, or valerian. A number of the participants are current or former tobacco farmers looking for ways to diversify and increase the economic viability of their farms. The growing demand for organic herbs necessitates all participating farms follow the National Organic Program standards. Farmers kept accurate and detailed records of their production methods and experiences as part of this research endeavor. These growers are refining their production, cultivation, drying, and post-harvest handling techniques this year so the bioactive contents of the harvested material and total yield per acre are maximized. Thirty more farmers will be selected to participate in the program starting this July and will produce additional herbs.

The Future of the Project
As this program grows, with QUALITY as its top priority, it is anticipated that more growers will participate to create a network of medicinal herb producers who can attract and support greater industrial investment in the state of North Carolina, creating a self-sustaining economic structure unto itself. We would be interested in working together with interested buyers or sponsors who would like to join us in this developing program and help our experienced base of agricultural growers in North Carolina survive and flourish. If you have medicinal herbs you would be interested in having produced and are willing to support a ready and committed group of experienced growers as a buyer of that medicinal herb, let's talk!

The Principal Investigator for this project is Dr. Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at North Carolina State University, and Coordinator of the NC Specialty Crops Program. Contact project coordinator Amy Hamilton at amy_hamilton@ncsu.edu (828) 684-3562 ext.257 or visit project website for details.

Funders of this project include: Golden Leaf Foundation | NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission | NC Rural Economic Development Center | NCDA


TRUFFLE PROJECT

Photo of truffles growing in a fieldTruffles are a highly prized, edible fungus that grows in association with the roots of several species of trees. In North Carolina, filberts are often used as the host tree. Roots of filbert seedlings are inoculated with the fungus and the young trees are planted in an orchard. Truffles need a temperate environment where freezing temperatures occur but not where the ground freezes solid. The soil must have a pH of 7.9 to 8.1 for truffle fruiting to occur. Because soils in North Carolina are naturally acidic, they must be heavily limed to slowly raise the pH. A good site for a truffle orchard should also be well drained and be irrigated. Once the trees are planted, the orchards are maintained with light cultivation several times per year. An organic mulch is helpful to keep down weeds, retain soil moisture, and moderate soil temperatures. The first truffles should appear the fourth to sixth year after planting. They are usually about six inches deep in the soil and dogs can be trained to find them during the winter and early spring.

At this time we do not know if truffles can be a profitable crop in North Carolina. That is the reason for the truffle grant project--to determine if sufficient yields can be obtained to be profitable. We do know, however, that truffles can be grown on a hobby scale in many parts of the state.

Commercial sources of truffle inoculated seedlings and additional information:
New World Truffieres, Inc.
This is a company in Oregon. In addition to selling truffle inoculated trees, they have an informative website. It explains orchard management, soil pH, etc. Check it out at: http://www.truffletrees.com/index.html.

Garland Gourmet Mushrooms and Truffles
This is a North Carolina based company that received a grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission to determine if truffles can be grown commercially in North Carolina. They sell inoculated seedlings and also offer a dog training service to help find your truffles. Their website is: http://www.garlandtruffles.com/

An article on the Garlands, their truffles, and one of their clients can be found at:
http://indyweek.com/durham/2004-03-17/dish2.html

Truffle forming fungi detection service from Mycorrhiza Biotech
Truffle forming fungi have mycorrhizal relationships with host trees. Certain types of truffles have gained significant market value outside of farming with some garnering wholesale prices of $500 per pound. Farmers seeking alternative crops are cultivating truffle farms. Subsequently, a niche market has formed to supply farmers with seedlings inoculated with truffle forming fungi. However, according to a recent article in the New York Times “Starting a truffle farm is a long-term investment with huge risks.” March 1, 2006. Seedlings are expensive as well as other long-term costs associated with truffle farming. MBT has perfected a molecular biology based method for detecting truffle forming fungi DNA in seedlings and trees in established truffle farms to help farmers mitigate the risks of truffle farming.
http://www.mycorrhizabiotech.com/index.html

Coveted, French, and Now in Tennessee
Article in the New York TImes, February 2008 (You may need to register with the New York TImes in order to view this article more than once.)

Funding for this project provided by: NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission


Graphic of a tomato2005 HEIRLOOM TOMATO STUDY

Mountain Research Station, Waynesville, NC
Project Leaders: Dr. Randy Gardner and Dr. Jeanine Davis
Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University

Introduction: There is a strong market for heirloom tomatoes. Consumers say they taste better and have thinner skins than "regular tomatoes". There is a nostalgic attraction for the "ole timey' varieties that Grandma used to grow. Heirloom varieties also come in many interesting colors and shapes and have fun names that just make them different from the standard tomato. The market for ORGANIC heirloom tomatoes is particularly strong.

This should be an excellent opportunity for local growers, except that heirloom tomatoes have several production problems. Most heirloom tomatoes have little or no disease resistance. This makes organic production, in particular, very difficult. In a wet season, like we are having this year, heirloom varieties fall victim to blight before they get the chance to yield much fruit. Heirloom varieties have a tendency to crack and are very rough in appearance, which makes them difficult to pack and sell commercially. Tomato breeder, Dr. Randy Gardner, has developed several new disease resistant experimental hybrids with heirloom qualities. Hopefully, these new hybrids will have the flavor of heirlooms but with the desired qualities of standard commercial tomatoes, e.g., disease resistance, uniform size, and good shipping characteristics.

Objectives: To determine if the new heirloom-type hybrids 1) have consumer acceptance as having the flavor of heirloom tomatoes and 2) can be successfully grown in organic and conventional production systems.

Experiment: Seven varieties of tomatoes are being grown in two plots. In one plot the tomatoes are being grown using conventional practices as recommended by the NC Cooperative Extensive Service, including synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides. In the other plot, tomatoes are being grown using organic practices as approved by the National Organic Program, including organic soil amendments and organic disease control. In both plots, the tomatoes are grown on raised beds with black plastic and drip-irrigation and high trellises. The varieties grown are German Johnson, Mr. Stripey, Cherokee Purple, NC 0455, NC 0571, NC 0576, and NC 05114. Transplants were set on June 2, 10 plants per plot, and pruned to a single stem.

Preliminary Results:

Organic Trial  TRT # of 25 lb Boxes/Acre Ounces /Fruit Comments 

German Johnson

2

1479

9.9

yellow shoulder, radial crack, some kidney shape, some burst, rough

Cherokee Purple

3

1420

8.0

severe cracking, yellow shoulder, rough, kidney shape, some burst

NC 0455

4

989

6.4

some cracking, some yellow shoulder, some BER, good shape

NC 0571

5

945

6.6

some cracking, some yellow shoulder, good shape, some BER

NC 0576

6

1085

7.0

some BER, some cracking, good shape, few zippers

NC 05114

7

833

1.8

good shape, no cracking

Conventional Trial TRT

# of 25 lb Boxes/Acre

Ounces /Fruit

Comments

Mr. Stripey

1

873

14.3

deep radial cracking, rough, burst, some BER, some ribbing

German Johnson

2

1152

9.2

some yellow shoulder, radial crack, ribbed, rough, some kidney shape

Cherokee Purple

3

1244

7.6

severe crack, green shoulders, burst, rough, kidney shape

NC 0455

4

811

6.0

slight cracking, slight BER, good shape, good color

NC 0571

5

797

6.6

slight cracking, slight BER, good shape

NC 0576

6

926

6.5

slight cracking, slight BER, good shape

NC 05114

7

606

1.5

good shape, no cracking

Means for 4, 6-plant replicates for each trial harvest at 4 weekly harvests (8/2-8/22/05).
Varieties #4-#7 are early blight and late blight resistant experimental hybrids.

Taste Test Results (56 people):

Overall Rating

Percentage (%)

 

Very Good

Good

Disliked

Mr. Stripey

49

42

9

German Johnson

25

56

19

Cherokee Purple

54

39

7

NC 0455

18

64

18

NC 0571

32

42

26

NC 0576

29

57

14

NC 05114

47

40

13

 

Percentage that indicated this was their favorite:

Mr. Stripey

30

German Johnson

6

Cherokee Purple

21.5

NC 0455

6

NC 0571

9

NC 0576

6

NC 05114

21.5

This study is a project of the N.C. Specialty Crops Program, a cooperative venture between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University and the Marketing Division at the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This project is funded in part by a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation. We wish to thank the staff at the Mountain Research Station for all their support without which, this would not be possible. Technical support has been provided by Candice Anderson, Beth Dixon, David Grimsley, Vicky Heatherly, Agatha Kaplan, Chris Leek, and Erica Piela. Marketing assistance is provided by Stephanie Wise, NCDA&CS.

Funding for this project provided by: Golden Leaf Foundation