The McDuffie farm in Bladen County, N.C., used to produce mainly peanuts, corn, tobacco and livestock, along with some timber.
But when Walter McDuffie, Elizabethtown, N.C., took over the farm 12 years ago, he thought there might be better enterprises for the sandy loam soil that might free more time for the pest control business he owned and operates on the side.
One such enterprise suggested itself when contracts for muscadine grapes for wine started to become available.
“We always had grapes on the farm for eating,” McDuffie said. “But back then, there wasn’t a good market. There were no official wineries. We ate them off the vine, made jellies and jams and occasionally a little homemade wine.”
In recent years, however, wineries have come to the Elizabethtown area looking for growers to grow grapes, and McDuffie decided to sign up. Now, five years later, McDuffie has just harvested his largest and best crop.
“My yields were between 6.5 and 7 tons,” said McDuffie. “That was really good considering I don’t irrigate and it was an extremely dry year.”
The quality was good. “One variety ‘brixed’ 17 and another 19,” he said. “Brix is the sugar content of a grape and a level of 16 is considered good.”
Growers frequently have to make a compromise between yield and quality, and that definitely happened this season.
“I could have had an even better yield had I picked a little earlier,” said McDuffie. “But we had to wait to make sure they were good and ripe.”
It was so dry and hot, there was some shrinkage of the fruit.
Providing top quality grapes
“But I had a better quality grape because of the good sugar content,” he said. “You can give up some pounds to get better quality. And besides, the winery deserves good grapes to make a better quality wine. I feel like if we don’t provide good grapes, they won’t make the sales we need them to make. If they make the sales, they can pay us more for the grapes.”
McDuffie sells to Lac Belle Amie Vineyard of Elizabethtown and North Myrtle Beach, S.C. “The winery says the 2010 muscadines were the best quality grapes it had ever received.
Now McDuffie is working on another way of making a profit from his land.
“I am starting a shooting preserve,” he said. “Right now, it is just for friends, and there is no charge. But this has good potential for making a profit. There is a demand for shooting preserves. I expect it to increase the value of my land already.”
Some of the things that have improved hunting on his farm:
• Controlled burning, which McDuffie said is probably the best thing you can do. “Burning develops a better habitat for wildlife.”
For instance, it results in more wild lespedeza. “Lespedeza gets smothered because of lack of sunlight and too much pine straw,” he said. “Once you burn, it starts coming up again.”
• Changing the habitat by selective forestry. “An important part is thinning pine plantations,” he said. “I don’t know of any wildlife that can live on pine straw. They need plants, nutrients, sunlight and cover. Taking out pines will help do that.”
Some hardwoods are important for wildlife, he added. “Hardwoods make a good mast crop, especially for deer, turkey and quail.”
He is also glad when he sees gallberry thickets again. “For years and years, I didn’t see gallberries on this farm,” McDuffie said. “Its shiny black fruit is great food for turkey and quail and also provides good cover, especially in winter, because it stays green.”
• Planting food plots like chicory, red clover and ladino clover.
The results are clear. “Since I started managing for wildlife, the quail covey count on these 600 acres has increased each year for three to four to 15.”
The potential is great for farmers, he said. “If you lease your land for hunting, and take a few steps to provide a quality environment, you can get more for your leases.
“This type of thing is spreading all over the country. Farmers need to realize the value they have in their land.”
A good source for McDuffie on managing farmland for wildlife has been the Quality Deer Management Association of Bogart, Ga. http://www.qdma.com, and he recommends the organization to any farmer considering establishing a better deer and wildlife habitat.
“They have all the information that any farmer and any landowner could need,” he said. “They will educate you with the proper knowledge to develop a successful deer and wildlife habitat.”