A&T Announces Program with Golden Leaf Foundation

For Immediate Release
March 28, 2001

Greensboro, NC: Tobacco farmers in the Northern Piedmont and Eastern regions of the state will have added hope, thanks to a new project funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation.

The School of Agricultural and Environmental and Allied Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University will lead "Enhancing Economic Opportunities of Tobacco-Impacted Communities Through Alternative Agriculture Enterprises and Business Management," a project granted $250,000 through the Golden LEAF Foundation.

The project will help farmers in these regions survive in the face of a declining tobacco market, says Dr. Alton Thompson, dean of NC A&T's School of Agricultural and Environmental and Allied Sciences.

"Farmers everywhere are facing tremendous competitive pressure," said Thompson. "And that pressure is especially acute for farmers who have long depended on tobacco for a substantial part of their revenue, and who have begun to see the market for their product dry up."

To help these farmers, A&T will team with Operation Spring Plant and the North Carolina Coalition for Farms and Rural Communities, two agriculture-focused non-profit agencies, to enhance economic opportunities for small-scale farmers in tobacco-dependent communities.

Central to the project's objectives is a database of research related to alternative agricultural enterprises. A&T researchers will build this database with both campus-based research and through experiments in alternative enterprises in the targeted areas. Among the anticipated areas of research are medicinal herbs, specialty crops and livestock and aquaculture.

"The enterprises we study through this project will be chosen according to their suitability to the region and the capabilities of small-scale farmers," said Dr. M. Ray McKinnie, interim associate dean of A&T's Agricultural Research Program and the project's director. "We want to help farmers discover alternatives to tobacco, and we want to provide them with research-based information to help them fully capitalize on their new ventures."

The cooperation of farmers is key to the success of the project, says McKinnie, and Operation Spring Plant and the North Carolina Coalition for Farms and Rural Communities will be key links to the cooperating farmers.

To sustain the project's benefits, A&T faculty will work with cooperating farmers to set up demonstration sites relevant to the research, where other farmers can visit and learn about alternative enterprises.

"One of the project's goals is to impress upon farmers how important marketing is to alternative agriculture enterprises," said McKinnie. "Each of the demonstration sites will feature successful marketing and management techniques, so that farmers have an opportunity to see a successful practice in action."

The Golden LEAF Foundation, based in Rocky Mount, provides economic impact assistance to economically affected or tobacco-dependent regions in North Carolina.

Golden LEAF is a nonprofit organization that was created in 1999 to oversee the money distributed from North Carolina's settlement with Philip Morris Inc. and other tobacco companies. The group distributed more than $5 million in its first-round funding through a limited number of grants. Nearly 418 state applicants requested more than $100 million in grants, but only 39 organizations were selected.

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For more information, please contact Dr. M. Ray McKinnie, NC A&T Agricultural Research Program, (336) 334-7691.