Dr. Jianmei Yu, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, is the researcher

Agricultural researchers at several North Carolina colleges and universities are discovering foundations for farm innovations, benefiting those who grow and consume farm products in North Carolina – and beyond.

Statewide Reach

The North Carolina Agricultural Research Service (NCARS) stretches across North Carolina with 18 research stations – from Waynesville to Plymouth, Oxford to Whiteville. Six sites are owned by North Carolina State University (NCSU), while 12 sites are owned by N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS).

“We work together with NCDA&CS to manage the research system in North Carolina,” says David Monks, director of the NCARS and associate dean in the NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Diverse locations let researchers conduct the same crop trials in different sites to identify how differences in North Carolina’s environment might affect farm production. Research is not limited to the 18-site network.

“Most of the blueberry varieties now grown in North Carolina were developed at two research stations, but the researchers also conducted extensive on-farm variety trials,” Monks says.

Sweet Potato Improvements

Through NCARS, researchers developed the Covington sweet potato. It is the cultivar planted most widely in N.C. and now accounts for at least 20 percent of all U.S. sweet potatoes. First grown at the Clinton and Kinston research stations in 1999 and 2000, Covington was then evaluated at different research stations and farms. It was available to farmers in 2008, and Covington is attracting attention nationwide because of its disease resistance and quality.

The rapid adoption of Covington shows how NCARS researchers have perfected their ability to communicate research developments to North Carolina farmers.

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“Many of our agricultural research faculty are not just publishing their findings in scientific journals. They are also communicating information from their research in agricultural publications and to North Carolina’s farmers and farm industry, who are the stakeholders in our work,” Monks says.

 N.C. A&T State’s Dr. Jianmei Yu is working to reduce the allergenicity of raw peanuts.

N.C. A&T State’s Dr. Jianmei Yu is working to reduce the allergenicity of raw peanuts.

Networks Stretches Far

Besides the 18 research stations, NCARS research occurs at 10 field labs, including a nearly 1,500-acre Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory in Raleigh. Lake Wheeler includes a state-of-the-art feed mill laboratory, for research focused on improving poultry diets in North Carolina.

The Pamlico Aquaculture Field Lab in Aurora is focused entirely on North Carolina’s aquaculture industry. There, NCSU researchers collaborate with the Striped Bass Growers Association to improve hybrid striped bass production on fish farms. This program resulted in a significant aquaculture industry developing within a 30-mile radius of the field lab.

Research is also showcased at the JC Raulston Arboretum, one of the country’s finest. “Many of the ornamentals developed by NCARS researchers are quickly adopted by commercial greenhouses and nurseries,” Monks says.

NCARS conducts research at the Plants for Human Health Institute at Kannapolis. The Center for Environmental Farming Systems at Goldsboro in operation with NCDA&CS and North Carolina A&T State University is also an NCARS partner.

Consumer Benefits

Agriculture research benefits consumers as well as farmers. At N.C. A&T State University, Dr. Jianmei Yu and her research team discovered how certain enzymes can be used to make roasted peanuts less allergenic.

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“The allergens in peanuts are large protein molecules,” Yu says. “The enzymes chop the large protein molecules into smaller pieces, or peptides, and the allergenicity is reduced.”

N.C. A&T State University licensed the patent for the process in 2014. A Greensboro-based company, Alrgn Bio, is developing the process for commercial use.

“Food manufacturers want a similar process for raw peanuts, so now we are looking for effective enzymes to reduce allergenicity in raw peanuts,” Yu says.


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