Monday, September 29, 2008
Tobacco Trust Fund Commission

Awards totaling $675,000 over a three-year period will be granted to western NC farmers.

The grant will be provided by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, which will partner with Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) and the WNC Agricultural Options program to accept applications and monitor the recipients’ projects.

Through this partnership, WNC AgOptions, a program established in 2004 and managed by N. C. Cooperative Extension Centers in the West District, will continue assisting mountain farmers transitioning from tobacco and other crops through 2011.

This grant was put in place to lessen the economic distress caused by soaring input and energy costs and the lingering effects of the state’s drought conditions.

Current and former tobacco growers are the primary audience for the program; however, any farmers living in tobacco dependent communities are eligible.

“We anticipate a large number of farmers benefitting from this unique opportunity,” said William Upchurch, Executive Director of the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “Our experience has shown that farmers utilize these grants for innovative, resourceful and profitable enterprises that can make a huge impact on their farming operation.”

In 2009, WNC AgOptions will award demonstration contracts valued at Grant Award: $3,000, Grant Award: $6,000 or $9,000 through a competitive application and review process. Awards will total $225,000 each year within 17 western North Carolina counties and the Cherokee Reservation.

“The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund’s support of the WNC Agricultural Options grant program has really helped our mountain farmers to diversify from their historic reliance on burley tobacco as their cash crop,” said NC Senator Joe Sam Queen. “AgOptions promotes entrepreneurial innovation that is essential for our small farmers to succeed in the 21st century. It is essential to provide economic opportunities that sustain our beautiful mountain farms and the landscape we all enjoy.”

The ultimate impact is preservation of the family farm. Award recipients are encouraged to explore crop diversification, ways to replace lost tobacco income and marketing & production techniques that demonstrate economic sustainability.

“I am pleased that the tobacco farmers in the western region of the state are eligible to apply for a grant that would help them in crop diversification, test new crop/products and find ways to replace the loss of tobacco, said NC Representative Mitch Gillespie who serves part of McDowell county. “I encourage farmers to apply.”

“Many of our farms have had tobacco grown on them for over 100 years,” said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and leader of the WNC AgOptions steering committee. “Changing to other farm enterprises is the only hope some of these farms have.”

“The challenge is that trying different crops, livestock or other agricultural enterprises is risky,” Young continued. “The purpose of the award program is to help farmers minimize their financial risk, as well as provide additional educational support on production, marketing and business management. Successful projects will serve as models for other farms in western North Carolina.”

Several N.C. Cooperative Extension directors and agricultural agents make up the WNC AgOptions steering committee, along with the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, community agribusiness leaders, former WNC AgOptions recipients and Handmade in America.

Examples of past WNC AgOptions projects include:

  • Transition from tobacco production to ornamentals, berries, trout farms or agri-tourism;
  • Improvements of existing operations, including horse boarding, mum production and choose-and-cut Christmas trees;
  • Creative markets for livestock, including goats for invasive plants removal, grass-finished beef and naturally grown pork;
  • Beekeeping, including integrated pest management and queen-rearing;
  • Native plants nursery start-ups;
  • Season extension for vegetables.

Interested farmers and representatives of agricultural cooperatives or associations may obtain applications from their local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center or at They are encouraged to contact their local agricultural agent by December 1, 2008 to discuss and research their project. During the next four months, various regional meetings will also review application instructions and project ideas. Applications must be postmarked by January 23, 2009. Award recipients will be announced in February 2009.

The Project Partners

Tobacco Trust Fund Commission    ::

Established in 2000 by the NC General Assembly to manage funds that are part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Grants target farm areas that have historically depended upon tobacco income through farming or tobacco-related businesses.

William Upchurch, Executive Director, 919-733-2160
Jeff Jennings, Program Officer


RAFI-USA    ::

Rural Advancement Foundation International. Private non-profit that promotes sustainability for family farmers and communities.

Jason Roehrig, Project Director, 919-542-1396


WNC AgOptions    ::

Operated by the NC Cooperative Extension Centers in the 17 western counties and Cherokee Reservation, WNC AgOptions builds sustainable farming communities in our mountain region by providing resources directly to farmers who are diversifying and expanding their operations. WNC AgOptions works with farmers in Avery, Buncombe, Cherokee, The Cherokee Reservation, Clay, Haywood, Henderson, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, McDowell, Polk, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey.

Megan Riley, Project Manager, (828) 649-2411 x305


Handmade in America    ::

The mission is to celebrate the hand and the handmade, to nurture the creation of traditional and contemporary craft, to revere and protect our resources, and to preserve and enrich the spiritual, cultural and community life of our region.


N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services – Marketing    ::

The mission of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is to improve the state of agriculture in North Carolina by providing services to farmers and agribusinesses, and to serve the citizens of North Carolina by providing services and enforcing laws to protect consumers.