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Success Story

Rooted in Partnership: How USDA NRCS and FSA Propel Hernandez Berries in Sampson County

Jose Hernandez picks through his Monica blackberry bushes.

Tucked away in Sampson County, Jose Hernandez works diligently working the land that he has nurtured for years.  

HARRELLS, N.C., October 13, 2023- In the scenic landscapes of North Carolina, the Hernandez blackberry farm emerges as a symbol of hard work, cultural roots, and agricultural innovation. A recent visit by the state's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Conservation Resources Service (NRCS) highlighted Jose Hernandez's deep commitment to his heritage and the land he cultivates.

For three years, the rich soil of Hernandez Berries has yielded bountiful crops of Monica blackberries. But Jose's connection with the earth goes way deeper. His voyage began when he set foot in the United States at the age of 14 in 1984. In over two decades, Jose morphed from an immigrant boy to a knowledgeable farmer, mastering various crops and understanding how vital farmland is.

“Conserving farmland is very important; it serves food that provides for everyone,” said Jose Hernandez, owner and operator of Hernandez Berries.

The farm rests on 6.2 acres of land. Recently, Mr. Hernandez acquired an additional acre with plans on further expanding his operation. According to the 2017 Ag Census, his farm is one of 20 farms in Sampson County with Hispanic roots. This is great news for North Carolina and the USDA, echoing the sentiment that diversity is indeed the state's strength.

But what truly sets Jose apart is his relationship with the USDA. As an active participant in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) with the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Jose can receive financial assistance when nature poses challenges to his crops.

"It's partnerships like these, with farmers like Jose, that truly exemplify the heart of FSA's mission," said Bob Etheridge, FSA State Executive Director for North Carolina. "Together, we're ensuring that North Carolina's agricultural legacy remains robust and resilient."

Additionally, NRCS recently selected Jose's farm to incorporate a seasonal high tunnel, or "hoop house," to promote sustainable farming. These innovative structures supported by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) aren't just about protection. They're transformative, offering many benefits to farmers.

High tunnels protect plants from severe weather and allow farmers to extend their growing seasons – growing earlier into the spring, later into the fall, and sometimes year-round. And, because high tunnels prevent direct rainfall from reaching plants, farmers can use precise tools like drip irrigation to efficiently deliver water and nutrients to plants. High tunnels also offer farmers a greater ability to control pests and can even protect plants from pollen and pesticide drift. Several soil health practices can be used in high tunnels, including cover crops and crop rotations, which also prevent erosion, suppress weeds, increase soil water content, and break pest cycles.

"Our collaboration with visionary farmers like Jose underscores the potential of sustainable farming,” said Tim Beard, State Conservationist for NRCS. “High tunnels are just one avenue; our aim is to empower farmers with tools and knowledge, driving agricultural success in sustainability."

Jose's trajectory highlights the transformative power of collaborative efforts. It demonstrates how agencies like the Natural Conservation Resources Service and Farm Service Agency are not mere support systems but catalysts driving sustainable and innovative farming forward. Those inspired to tread a similar path will find a reservoir of knowledge and assistance at their local USDA Service Center.


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