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Agribusiness Henderson County Executive Director Mark Williams has been named to the state Food Processing Innovation Center Advisory Committee, focusing on employment, investment and value in food processing.

The appointment, he says, may be a great opportunity to assist Henderson County’s growing food production market.

Food processing and creating value-added products is a way to increase profit margins for farmers, including grading and repackaging vegetables, manufacturing wine and cider and more, a field where Henderson County continues to grow.

The Food Processing Innovation Center, planned for the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, will be a place for research and development in packaging methods, equipment and more.

Representing food manufacturers, and perhaps the only Western North Carolina resident on the 14-member council, Williams will serve through Dec. 31, 2020.

Also on the committee are state Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, state Secretary of Commerce Tony Copeland and Dean of N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Science Rich Linton.

The committee is an initiative born from the N.C. Food Manufacturing Taskforce that sought to find strategies for economic development in food and agricultural products.

The committee hasn’t met yet, Williams said, but he will be providing advisement on where the focus needs to be and ways it can best benefit the state as a whole in terms of agricultural production, incorporating into that value-added products and food processing.

Through the efforts of AgHC, the county has already enjoyed many opportunities for growth, Williams wrote in an email Tuesday. In the last six years, the county has added two wineries and three cideries, seen significant expansion of two major produce companies, added storage facilities and markets for apples, berries and produce, welcomed the formation of an international greenhouse operation and a new dairy-creamery, and seen plenty of other farm and ag-related growth.

It’s estimated that with that recent growth, agribusiness now contributes about $650 million to the local economy and employs more than 7,000, he wrote, adding that “AgHC’s hope is the new Food Processing Innovation Center will provide beneficial research to our existing operations and assist in further growth and development for the industry.”

There’s a lot happening in the western part of the state, he added. Henderson County is a hub for food production in the region, a county that has grown the industry more and more through the years.

The legislature appropriated $700,000 in recurring funds through fiscal year 2018-19, and a non-recurring $4.4 million in this year’s budget, to equip the Food Processing Innovation Center. Williams said the facility provides an opportunity for local manufacturers like Bold Rock Hard Cider or Burntshirt and St. Paul wineries to utilize those facilities if they’re having difficulty in production, processing or safety.

Legislation establishing the committee also lays out goals for its members, which Williams said are particularly exciting for AgHC. One in particular the group finds important, and should benefit local farmers and agribusinesses, is the goal of “Increasing the use of North Carolina-produced ingredients, agricultural products, equipment and other products of food manufacturers located in this state.” This has been a key AgHC goal for Henderson County since the organization began operations in 2006.

“We will now have the opportunity to advance it with the support of a statewide initiative and benefit of new research facilities,” he wrote. “Having a voice on the Advisory Committee is definitely a blessing.”

Value-added products increase a farmer’s profit margins, like making cider with apples. A bushel of apples may only be worth so much, but converting that bushel to a graded and packaged product or cider are ways to increase the value of that product, Williams said.

One area where the county has seen value-added development is in the beverage industry, which is also one of the most rapidly growing in the state, Williams said. With wineries and cideries growing in Henderson County and breweries and distilleries growing across the state, there is a tremendous benefit to the agricultural community because of the products going in, he said — whether it’s apples, grapes, berries or even wheat and grain, even the by-products like spent grain or apple pomace are used.

I am pleased and honored to have received an appointment by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to serve on the state’s new Food Processing Innovation Center Advisory Committee, representing food manufacturers . This initiative came out of the NC Food Manufacturing Taskforce, which was formed to come up with strategies for economic development efforts for the industry of food and agricultural products. The new committee will be comprised of 14 members including the NC Commissioner of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Dean of NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, President of the Golden L.E.A.F. Foundation, President of Economic Development Partnership of NC, President of the Community College System Office, an Agricultural Economist and other appointees by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

General information about the Food Processing Innovation Center can be found in a video from Dean Rich Linton, NCSU-CALS by clicking HERE. Additionally, a recent article on the initiative can be found HERE.

To be selected as one of the few representatives from the mountain region of North Carolina gives a greater sense of responsibility. Through efforts of Henderson County’s own local initiative in economic development of agribusiness (Agribusiness Henderson County - AgHC), we have already enjoyed many growth opportunities. It is estimated that with recent growth, agribusiness now contributes approximately $650 Million to our local economy and employees over 7,000 people. In the past 6 years we have seen the addition of two wineries, three cideries, significant expansion of two major produce companies, added storage facilities and markets for apples, berries and produce, formation of an international greenhouse operation, a new dairy-creamery and growth of many other farm and ag-related operations. AgHC’s hope is the new Food Processing Innovation Center will provide beneficial research to our existing operations and assist in further growth and development for the industry.

Bill 257 Section 10.24.(b) lays out key goals for the Committee, which are particularly exciting for AgHC. One goal that we find especially important and that should benefit our farmers and agribusinesses states, “Increasing the use of North Carolina produced ingredients, agricultural products, equipment, and other products of food manufacturers located in this State.” AgHC has had this key goal for Henderson County since it began operating in 2006 and we will now have the opportunity to advance it with the support of a statewide initiative and benefit of new research facilities. Having a voice on the Advisory Committee is definitely a blessing.

- Mark Williams

Executive Director, AgHC

November 17, 2016- Hendersonville Lightning

Hendersonville is getting a second apple celebration — a one-day event in the spring to promote the growing hard cider business.
Agribusiness Henderson County is sponsoring the Apple Country Cider Jam, Henderson County’s first hard cider festival, on Saturday, April 22, on Main Street.The festival, from 1 to 6 p.m., will be a ticketed event with hard cider tasting, a nationally known bluegrass band and food trucks, said Mark Williams, executive director of AgHC, the nonprofit that promotes farming in Henderson County. The jam will close the same two blocks that are used for Rhythm & Brews, in front of the Visitors Center and Wells Fargo bank.

September 30, 2016- Asheville Citizen Times

Bitwater Farms isn't much to look at. If it weren't for the cricket mural on one shipping container, retrofitted as a workshop, there's little to indicate that what's being built and raised on this rural piece of property in Mills River holds such potential for change in agriculture.

So far Bitwater Farms has largely been operating quietly, save for the undeniable chirp of crickets. And then there's that smell.

June 9, 2016- Asheville Citizen Times

You can't make great hard cider without a steady source of first-rate apples. Henderson County has plenty of those, and is making a mark in cider in the same way that Asheville is known for craft brew.