Farm Tour warms interest in agriculture despite cold temps

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2014 1:30 pm | Updated: 11:14 am, Fri Nov 28, 2014.

Despite freezing weather, some three dozen people explored a local orchard, a farm, a ranch and a vineyard Friday, Nov. 14, during the annual Farm City Tour, sponsored by the Haralson County Farm Bureau in association with the Haralson County Chamber of Commerce, Commissioners, Cattlemen, UGA Extension Service, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and West Georgia Soil and Water Conservation District.

After a barbecue lunch, a caravan of busses, pickups and cars drove first to Beech Creek Farms and Orchards, spanning 12 acres of apple and peach orchards and vegetable crops, plus 418 acres of uncultivated woods, once a prime target for a reservoir. The familiar silo and barn on Georgia Hwy. 120 between Buchanan and Tallapoosa marks the former dairy, devoted now to crops raised by owner Brian Heatherington, a third-generation farmer. The silo is now a starling roost.

In his apple orchard, Heatherington told how he had to harvest apples before Friday’s freeze hit his trees, ranging in age from three to eight years. Despite the cold, Heatherington said the apples were placed in refrigeration and will be sold until next March.

Heatherington said Pink Lady is the favorite variety he sells to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) outlets and at three farmers markets. The others include Gala, Ginger Gold and Fuji.

“We don’t just produce apples; we produce quality apples,” he said.

Heatherington said his operation includes expensive labor and large outlays for young trees in lots of 500 at $10 each. Chemicals and specialized equipment is also required: an orchard mower, an air blast sprayer and an orchard tractor.  He said fighting fungus is a major expense, as well as stinkworms and sunburn, leading to a high cull rate this year.

The sandy soil of the Beech Creek bottom land, he said, is good for his vegetables and strawberries, which are grown by plasticulture, utilizing “a machine which makes a raised bed, laying drip tape and plastic mulch in one pass.”

Another tour stop, the 80-acre Robertson Farm between Tallapoosa and I-20 near Walker’s Creek, is operated by David and Jan Robertson, and raises an average of 240,000 chickens per flock to be shipped worldwide. A fifth-generation farmer since the 1840s, Robertson was raised on a dairy farm and started his a poultry grower-integrator contract system when he returned to farm life in 2010.

“The best explanation of farming,” Robertson told the tour group, “is to produce food.”

He added that “Poultry is number one in this area.”

Georgia farmers lead the nation in broiler production, according to the USDA.

“One of the biggest challenges in poultry farming is taking care of your resources, keeping the birds happy with food, water and good houses,” Robertson said. “The biggest reward is the lifestyle.”

He said 99.9 percent of his production is poultry, but that raising and selling hay for livestock and honey locally from 12 bee hives is on the increase.

At the Trillium Vineyard, owned by Bruce and Karen Cross, the visitors heard a presentation that created interest among the touring visitors in that, besides growing wine grapes, their property in Haralson County also raises alpacas. In fact, because of Karen’s love for alpacas, the animals came first in 2002. It was not until 2012 that grape-growing started.  Fifteen alpacas are in the fold now, and five in the womb.

“Customers include individuals interested in fiber arts and alpaca breeding,” according to a flyer provided by the Farm Bureau. “This customer base stretches internationally.”

Bruce, who represents one of several generations of farmers, said challenges to the alpacas are heat and humidity.

“The biggest challenge in the vineyard is to keep up with the vigorous growth,” he said. “We have to stay on top of the vines during growing season.”

The vines can stand 20-degree weather, said Cross, but zero temperatures will kill the vines as it did in 2013.

“We lost 20 percent of our crop, but many vineyards between here and New York lost 100 percent.”

He stated that he “has always felt that he should be a good steward of the land,” quoting a Bible verse from John 15 on his website homepage, which warns that vines must be pruned to produce grapes.

The vineyard occupies two of the farm’s 220 acres and produces Blanc du Bois, Villard Blanc, Lenoir and Norton grapes with an eye to producing other varieties. Their business plan is to enlarge the vineyard in increments of two acres. A plan is proceeding which will transform existing structures into a winery and a wine-tasting room, says their website. The Crosses envision a marketing strategy that will include local customers and agritourists, and they want to put in a fiber studio where they plan to offer classes in fiber arts and sales.

As the tour moved to the White Hawk Ranch, 4765 U.S. Hwy. 27, in Buchanan, the group heard an enthusiastic presentation from Josh Cabe, the 27-year-old Farm Manager, who said he has “been in the cattle business since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.”

Besides Buchanan, where the ranch owner Gary Hedrick lives, Cabe said White Hawk operations are found in Bremen, Bowdon and Powder Springs, working in conjunction with former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes.

Cabe said White Hawk’s bread-and-butter is in creating quality bulls for breeding – a sample of which may be viewed at www.whitehawkbeefmakers.com. The ranch sells cattle annually in February at their Cedartown barn. In 2015, a May sale will be added.

One of the challenges facing Cabe and other cattle ranchers is hard work.

“We can’t work just a 40-hour week and be successful; 40 hours would be up by Wednesday of each week,” said the young manager, who commutes from his home in Rockmart.

“The biggest challenge is the environment,” he added. “This year it has been the drought, followed by early winter cold.”

Farmers deal with numerous variants. The weather proves to be one of the most important variables in farming, affecting many aspects of growing crops and raising livestock.

“Cattle were designed to run on grass,” he said. “We have no control over the weather, a variable which affects the grass. We do provide an aggressive foraging program and try to be protective of the environment by rotating pasture land.”

One of the rewards for Cabe is “watching the miracle of life. That is very, very rewarding.”

The Hedrick family has been active in the cattle business since 1926 when the current owner’s grandfather, Perry Hedrick, bought his first female Hereford.

After the tour, Ann Crim, Chamber of Commerce Board Chair noted how the Farm Bureau opened her eyes to Haralson County’s diverse agriculture.

“I realized there is a great deal of knowledge and training required to successfully operate a farm, cattle ranch, poultry farm or vineyard,” she said. “These agricultural endeavors are every bit as important to our overall economic development as industry and small business.”

Crim went on to say that as a rural community, some students may consider farming in their future. She hopes for a program where young people can take advantage of a farm work experience.

Farm Tour 2014
Bremen, GA
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