What’s Growing in Pamlico?

— Written By Tamara Carawan
en Español / em Português

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Tractor plowing field

The last couple of months have been challenging, but as the saying goes “life must go on”. In the case of local farmers, that means planting several different crops including corn, soybeans, and tobacco. While many home gardeners have been planting a few square feet of garden space, farmers in Pamlico County have been working tirelessly to cover thousands of acres.

Planting of field corn started in early April when soil temperatures rose above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s been a slow start because of cooler weather, but residents should notice many corn fields reaching 6-12” high near roadways. You may see farmers in these fields currently applying nitrogen fertilizer and weed control products. Corn is primarily used as feed for livestock in North Carolina. Pamlico County is ranked #19 in the state in corn production, producing over 1.7 million bushels (1 bu. = 56 lb.) in 2018. Over the next couple of months, look for this crop to grow quickly, producing the male flower (tassel) and female flower (silk), and eventually the ear of corn (grain). If you are interested in learning more about North Carolina corn production, visit the NC State Extension Corn Portal.

Currently, residents may also be seeing tractors and equipment crossing fields planting soybeans. Soybeans are another important crop for livestock feed, as this is one of the few plant-based feedstocks that can provide the essential protein that livestock need to grow. Soybeans are typically planted May through July, with earlier planted soybeans having a little more growth potential. Soybeans are a unique crop that flower based upon day/night length, which breeders have classified into 13 maturity groups (000 – X, Roman numerals). These maturity groups have generalized optimum growth ranges that progress from North (000-IV) to South (V-IX). Soybean maturity groups grown in Pamlico County include groups IV-VIII, with group V being the most common. Soybeans have a compound leaf called a trifoliate, which means it has three leaflets that make up the leaf. Pamlico County is ranked #40 in soybean production in North Carolina, producing over 440,000 bushels (1 bu. = 60 lb.) in 2018. Over the next few months, watch this crop as it quickly grows to blanket a field, producing plants 3-4 feet tall. If you are interested in learning more about North Carolina soybean production, visit the NC State Extension Soybean Portal.

Tobacco is another crop grown in Pamlico County that has been a cash crop for many years. Fewer acres are planted in Pamlico County currently, but you may still notice a few fields near roadways. Tobacco is started in greenhouses as transplants between mid-February to mid-March. With warming soils in April and May, growers mechanically set these transplants into fields. Tobacco plants have a long growing season and require additional labor and management to produce a crop that is acceptable for market. You may notice that once these plants produce a flower, the flowers are removed either by machine or hand labor. This helps to redirect growth energy into the leaves, which is important to produce the size and quality of the harvestable leaf. If you are interested in learning more about North Carolina tobacco production, visit the NC State Extension Tobacco Portal.

The final crop you may notice currently growing in Pamlico County is potatoes (Irish). Most of the potatoes grown in Pamlico County will reach a fryer a near you in the form of potato chips. Potatoes are usually planted from February through March and harvested June through July. You may notice these plants growing in a field near you, but you will not see the potato tubers that grow underground. Potatoes are a fun crop to grow at home, but they prefer cooler weather. When temperatures begin to warm in late spring, potatoes are planning their exit. Potatoes are planted with seed pieces produced from potatoes of a previous crop. These seed pieces sprout roots and stems (technically a potato tuber is a modified stem), with new potatoes produced in the soil above the seed piece. Potatoes can range in skin and flesh color from red, white, blue, and purple. Some potato varieties are better for frying, while others are better for baking. If you would like to learn more about how NC State University supports potato production in North Carolina visit NC State Potato and Sweetpotato Breeding and Genetics Programs.

If you would like to learn more about the different crops grown in North Carolina, there are many Crop Profile notes available through the NC State Extension Integrated Pest Management Portal. These crop profiles provide a summary of many of the crops grown in North Carolina with details about the production process.

For more information on this topic or other lawn and gardening questions, please contact Daniel Simpson with the N.C. Cooperative Extension office at 252-745-4121 or daniel_simpson@ncsu.edu.