What is in this article?:
• Ed Wood farms several hundred acres of grain crops on what is left of a once sprawling family farm along U.S. Highway 74, which is the main west-to-east corridor between Chattanooga, Tenn., and Asheville, N.C.
• His farm is literally at the entrance to Great Smokey Mountains National Park, one of the Southeast’s top tourist attractions.
NORTH CAROLINA farmer Ed Wood checks a hay crop on his farm near Andrews, N.C.
Land is lacking
One of our biggest problems farming this mountain valley is a lack of land. “We could probably double our acreage and still have the equipment and labor to manage that size operation, but the land is just not available, Wood adds.
In their current operation, Wood and his son Mathew, with part time help from his brother Keith, farm around an airport, a train track that is no longer in use, one of the busiest tourist highways in the state and land taken out of production by a land-trust.
Western North Carolina, like most regions of the Southeast, is in a severe grain deficit situation. Large poultry operations nearby provide a constant market for grain.
More land would help local livestock producers indirectly by producing more local grain, but that’s not a reality that’s likely to change, Wood says.
Wood and his son also have a small livestock operation and grow 20-30 acres of hay crops for sale in local markets. They also grow a few acres of pumpkins, which are also sold locally.
A large poultry layer operation located nearby provides much of the fertilizer used on the farm, though it can be challenging because of the high protein, high calcium diets needed to produce eggs. The result is a higher soil pH, which they combat primarily with applications of manganese sulfate and periodic additional applications of sulfur.
Litter from the poultry operation is spread in the fall. Then, Wood comes back with a starter fertilizer when he plants corn, followed by 30 gallons per acre of UAN, when his corn gets to about knee-high.
Most everything about grain production in the western North Carolina mountain valley is a little different from other places in the state.
Weeds are no different. The toughest weed problem in his grain farming operation is burcucumber, which is not much of a problem anywhere else in the Southeast.
Burcumber is a summer annual climbing vine that closely resembles garden cucumbers, especially early in the growth stage. “If you’ve ever walked through a field of it, you will remember it. The burs get in your clothes and are virtually impossible to remove,” Wood explains.
One challenge Wood has not faced in his unique farming environment is glyphosate resistant weeds. While other farmers went to systems that relied heavily, if not exclusively, on glyphosate to manage weeds in corn and soybeans, the North Carolina farmer says he stuck to his long-proven herbicide strategies for weed control in corn and soybeans.
Glyphosate is a part of his herbicide program, especially for controlling burcucumber, but other families of herbicides are routinely used.
Standing in a field of newly planted corn, looking eastward to the Smokey Mountains and Nantahala Gorge, Wood says despite the many challenges of his mountain valley farm, he feels truly blessed to be able to make a living farming in this little corner of western North Carolina.
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