Farm safety worker to join Wilson ag office

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A new farmworker safety and health educator position will be added to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County.

The announcement was made Monday during the Cooperative Extension agency’s annual report to the Wilson County Board of Commissioners.

“This is a brand-new position that is 100 percent funded through N.C. State (University),” said extension office Director Norman Harrell. “This gentleman’s name is Roberto Rosales.”

Rosales will begin work later in March.

“He brings a lot of experience in working with our Latino and migrant workers and he is going to work with our farmers to train those workers to keep them safe with a lot of the tasks that they are involved in,” Harrell said. “This position will be based in our office in Wilson but he is going to service Wilson, Edgecombe and Nash counties. This is something that our farmers are really going to appreciate.”

The year 2017 brought change for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County.

Harrell said about 40 percent of the personnel in the office changed in 2017.

“We have had a lot of change in our staff over the past year. We had three longtime agents retire that had a cumulative 85 years of service. We had another person change jobs,” Harrell said. “I would like to thank the staff members for pitching in and getting us through 2017 as we worked to rebuild. We all had to carry areas that were a little bit outside of our responsibility, but we were able to make it all come together.”

Harrell, who has just completed his first year as director of the office, introduced three of the newest extension agents.

Jessica Anderson, ag agent for livestock and field crops including cotton and peanuts, told the group that everyone needed to get ready for the 67th annual Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show and Sale that will be held March 28 and 29 at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.

This year, a total of 89 4-Hers are raising a total of 140 animals. Last year’s event earned $269,000 in sales.

“If you do want to come out and have a good time, we do have the Old Timers Showmanship Competition on March 28 at the fairgrounds,” Anderson said. “If you would like to show a pig as an adult, that opportunity is available to you. We can make that happen if that’s your wildest dream. Also, we have an adult livestock judging competition that evening. So if you have ever wanted to judge livestock, for whatever reason, you can come out and learn from the kids or you can just come out and have a crack at it.”

Tommy Batts, ag extension agent for commercial horticulture, pesticide coordinator and forestry, said he plans to set up a sweet potato advisory committee this year to better assess growers’ needs.

“Last year we grew over 9,800 acres of sweet potatoes and that brings in over $20.5 million in income,” Batts said. “We have about 25 operations in the county that grow sweet potatoes. Six of those are packers and they grow, package and sell those 40-pound boxes you see.”

Batts said the NCSU breeding program will be putting in a sweet potato variety trial in Wilson County this year.

Cassidy Hobbs, family and consumer science agent, said 38 percent of adults in Wilson County are obese.

“That is a problem. The North Carolina state average is 29 percent, so that’s well above the state average. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death behind cancer. That is another issue that we in family and consumer science can tackle,” Hobbs said. “Based on a survey of Wilson County residents, the No. 1 behavioral concern that needed further education need was how to eat right and how to be more physically active and fit. Out of 100 counties, Wilson County is ranked only the 81st healthiest, so that is pretty low on the list. These are some of the issues that I would like to tackle within this program.”

Part of the effort to change the trend will be the new Fit to Farm program, which will be offered every other week.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson reported 25,530 people served in person and 26,377 served non-face-to-face through the course of the year. The agency had 607 volunteers. Some 55 educational meetings were held with 1,643 participants. Wilson County 4-H enrollment was 3,156 , with 14 clubs and 634 club members.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wilson County is a partnership funded with $492,000 from Wilson County, $325,000 from state and federal support, $263,000 in specialist support, $294,000 from grants and donations and $110,000 in value of volunteer time.

Overall, in 2017, Wilson County had income of $144,671,567 from the sales of farm products. The top three sellers were flue-cured tobacco at $49,215,769, nursery and greenhouse products at $32,100,000 and sweet potatoes with $20,650,000 in sales.

In attendance were Commissioners Rob Boyette, Leslie Atkinson, Bob Blackman, Sherry Lucas and Chris Hill.

“On behalf of Chairman (Bobbie) Jones and all of our commissioners that are here tonight, we really appreciate what Cooperative Extension is doing,” said Boyette, the board’s vice chairman. “You mean a lot to us and you mean even more to our farmers and agribusiness people in our community. Agriculture is essential in Wilson County and I am sure you may be new to Wilson County in a lot of ways, but you have already learned how important farming and agribusiness is to what our citizens do every day in our county. We are proud of that and we can already see you are going to keep it going.”