North Wilkesboro, N.C. — The success of a low-cost farm equipment rental program in Wilkes County and a growing need for additional equipment has led the Golden LEAF Foundation to award a $63,000 grant to the Wilkes Economic Development Corporation. The Wilkes EDC will manage the funds with the N.C. Cooperative Extension and the Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association which will use the grant to purchase four pieces of new equipment: a Titan West portable corral, a tandem axle fertilizer and lime spreader, a 500-gallon liquid applicator and an Arrow Cattle handling system.
“Golden LEAF is pleased to support this collaborative effort to increase access to equipment for local farmers,” said Ted Lord, Acting President of Golden LEAF. “This grant responds to a clearly identified demand of the local farming community and expands a program that has demonstrated its ability to maintain its existing equipment using rental fees. We look forward to continued outstanding results from this program.”
In addition to the Golden LEAF grant, the Wilkes EDC plans to contribute $15,000 and the WCA plans to contribute $5,000 to purchase a vehicle to transport the equipment to farmers utilizing the program.
“This low-cost rental program is a beacon of how collaborations can have a long-term economic impact on a regional industry,” said LeeAnn Nixon, president of the Wilkes Economic Development Corporation. “The program began in 2014. Funds from the Golden LEAF Foundation allowed for the purchase of four pieces of farm equipment at a cost of $27,500. Additionally, in 2017 Wilkes EDC contributed $16,175 for two more pieces of equipment to the program. Low-cost rental fees cover maintenance of the equipment. Since the program’s inception, 65 producers were assisted 154 times, processing over 7,100 animals with an estimated increase in profit to the producers of $532,000.”
Nixon added, “John Cothren, N.C. Cooperative Extension director, has been using his personal vehicle to transport rented equipment to farmers throughout Wilkes and neighboring counties. While this shows his sincere dedication to the success of the program, the purchase of a vehicle totally devoted to the program provides a long-term solution to the logistics of delivering the equipment to the farmers.”
Wilkes ranks third in the state for production of poultry broilers and beef cattle, fifth for hay, and tenth for poultry layers. Wilkes is the state’s seventh largest county in agriculture cash receipts. The agricultural impact on the county was around $551 million in 2017, making up 36 percent of the county’s GDP and providing 22 percent of the county’s jobs.
“Younger farmers are challenged with continuing in the farming tradition due to the lack of access to and the high cost of necessary equipment,” said Cothren. “I believe this rental program provides valuable assistance to farmers. It supports agriculture as a way of life in Wilkes; it helps existing farmers who are challenged when buying expensive farm equipment; it provides support to those who are considering agriculture as a career; and it helps strengthen farmer relationships with the extension office, which provides further education and is an ongoing resource to farmers.”
The program began with a vision to help farmers in Wilkes County affordably access farm equipment; however, Cothren has also established relationships with farmers in Surry, Yadkin, Iredell, Caldwell and Alexander counties who needed the equipment rental program. Awareness of this great need prompted the Wilkes EDC, along with the Wilkes Cattleman’s Association, to seek additional funds from Golden LEAF to secure farming equipment that is currently not available to rent locally and make it available through the low-cost rental program.
The Golden LEAF Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding received from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers. For 20 years, Golden LEAF has worked to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities through leadership in grantmaking, collaboration, innovation, and stewardship as an independent and perpetual foundation. The Foundation has provided lasting impact to tobacco-dependent, economically distressed and rural areas of the state by helping create 64,000 jobs, over half a billion dollars in new payrolls and more than 77,000 workers trained or retrained for higher wages.
The Wilkes Economic Development Corporation, a 501 c3 public-private partnership, aims to facilitate the creation of new jobs and capital investment in Wilkes County through the retention and expansion of existing businesses and the recruitment of new businesses. The EDC is located at 213 Ninth Street in historic downtown North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension partners with communities to deliver education and technology that enrich the lives, land, economy, and families of North Carolinians. N.C. Cooperative Extension is a strategic partnership between N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University along with federal, state and local governments. The N.C. Cooperative Extension provides offices in all 100 counties and with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Its Wilkes County Center is located at 416 Executive Drive in Wilkesboro.
Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association hosts regular meetings to provide educational opportunities and support to local farmers.