LAUREL SPRINGS — Agriculture is big business in Ashe County, in 2018 it contributed $120 million to Ashe’s economy according to the Ashe County Cooperative Extension. With it being as important to the county as it is, farmers are always on the lookout for better ways to produce their products.

The Upper Mountain Research Station in Laurel Springs is constantly trying to improve on the work done in fields around the county. Established in 1944, the 454-acre station does work with livestock, crops and cattle. The station is one of 18 North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stations in the state, the only one in the northwest area.

It was also the host for the Extension Advisory Council Meeting Thursday, June 6. The quarterly meeting is where members and representatives from the ACCE and North Carolina Cooperative Extension meet with local business and county representatives to go over what they’ve been working on and currently have in the works.

This past meeting featured a tour of the UMRS, where superintendent Tracy Taylor and Ashe County Extension Director Travis Birdsell showed guests what the station does and why it’s important to the county.

The first stop on the tour was a greenhouse which was renovated with the help of a $12,000 contribution from the county in February 2018. Inside were hundreds of fraser fir saplings, which grew at an accelerated rated due to special lights hanging above them, according to Taylor.

Outside were more saplings, split into sections to compare growth rates via different methods. Birdsell said there’s nothing wrong with the methods used currently, but any way to improve the system has to be looked into and considered.

The tour also went to the station’s livestock buildings, where employees are constantly looking into improving the genetics of cattle to get the most out of the animals. Cattle is a major part of the station’s continued operation. Taylor said the station must make back on its own 66 cents to every dollar it spends, with cattle typically being the bulk of their return.

Much of the UMRS’s land goes to what brings in the most money for Ashe County, Christmas trees. Acres of the land are dedicated to the study, cultivation and development of fraser firs and continues the works done in the and around the greenhouse, with researchers coming from all over the globe according to Taylor.

“We are the largest Christmas tree-producing county in the nation; it makes sense that we should have the largest Christmas tree research station in the nation,” Birdsell said.

Researchers at the UMRS hope to continue the trees’ improved growth, size changes, needle retention and disease resistance. The work done on the trees can prove to be valuable in many aspects, with the extension siting the Christmas tree industry as being a more than $90 million-per-year business in Ashe County.

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