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October 17, 2012

Past meets present on Farm-city tour (WITH VIDEO)

Awards banquet to kick off National Farm-City week Nov. 15

CULLMAN — With heat hotter than the July sun coming from a large burner, Carolyn Smith reminisced on her childhood days Monday as she watched skilled hands make the juice from sorghum cane into syrup.

For the most part, it’s exactly how she remembers her father doing it. The only thing missing was a mule or two.

My, how technology has changed the way farm work is done.

Smith, who made the drive from Morris, was one of roughly 30 who participated in the annual Cullman County Farm-City tour. The tour made stops at Royal Technologies and the North Alabama Horticulture Research Center, before the final destination at GoldVine Farms operated by Phillip and Nancy Garrison.

“I’ve enjoyed it very much,” Smith said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to see the county. It’s been real interesting to see how technology is used in farming today.”

According to Nancy, the process for making sorghum began during the first part of May when the seeds were planted. From there, once it matures, she said Phillip will strip the leaves , remove the head of the seeds, and cut the cane to take to the mill. Before powered technology came along, mules were used to crush the stalks. Now, the cane is fed into the mill where rollers crush the stalks and squeeze the juice out. The juice is then collected into a container to await cooking. From the time the juice runs in the pan, Phillip said the process takes roughly an hour with temperatures between 210 and 220 degrees.

“I hope some of you have seen something you haven’t seen before,” Phillip said. “And for the ones that have seen it, I hope it brought back some memories.”

Making sorghum has been in the Garrison family genes for over 100 years, and it’s a heritage Phillip said he and his older brother David are trying to keep alive.

“There aren’t many sorghum syrup makers left in north Alabama. There’s molasses, but that’s made out of sugar cane. Ours is made out of sorghum cane.”

He added the syrup was an essential item years ago.

“Back years ago, sorghum syrup was a very important commodity,” Phillip said. “They bartered with it. They would trade it out for fertilizer. Sorghum syrup was something that was used a lot then, but now, you can flood the market with it because not enough people know what it is.”

No visit to GoldVine would have been complete without a taste test of the finished product. And Nancy wasn’t letting anyone leave hungry. Those on the tour were treated to a brunch of home made biscuits, sweet potatoes, baked ham, and tomatoes.

Meanwhile, at the North Alabama Horticulture Research Center, a 7R John Deere tractor, valued at $180,000, helped demonstrate how farmers use GPS technology to plant and harvest their crops, as well as to spray pesticides and herbicides. The GPS signals also allow for an auto-steer system to be used.

“I was a little nervous when I heard about tractors that were driving themselves because there’s a lot of risk with that,” Shannon Norwood, a spokesperson with TriGreen Equipment said. “But after learning about it and seeing how the system works, it’s real impressive to see a tractor out in the field driving itself.”

In addition, JDLink another GPS type system, allows farmers to see what equipment is running, and which ones are idling, as well as documentation of machine and operator productivity. The system can also recover stolen machines through GPS tracking.

“With this system, we’re now able to see more communication between tractors in the field,” Norwood said.

At the first stop on the tour, those taking part were able to get a glimpse of how technology is used in the business industry as well, with a tour through Royal Technology. The company opened its doors  in Cullman in September of 2010. There, they manufacture and assemble products for the automotive and office furniture industry, such as foam seats, and single-piece chair backs for office furniture.

The Farm-City awards banquet will kick off National Farm-City week on Nov. 15 at the Cullman Civic Center. The annual celebration will feature the presentation of the Farm Family for 2013, as well as Farm-City poster winners and youth leadership awards. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at Alabama Farm Credit, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, Cullman County Economic Development, Cullman Savings Bank, Eva Bank, Federer Fertilizer, First South Farm Credit Merchants Bank, Peoples Bank, and Traditions Bank.

* Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at agraves@cullmantimes.com

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