WEST JEFFERSON-Even with the effects of a national recession still being felt on the home front, agriculture remains a viable industry in Ashe County.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farming and cultivation remains the largest industry in the county. Currently, agriculture is valued at $104.5 million with 1,140 farms totaling 112,462 acres.
It will come as no surprise to many that Christmas trees continue to be a major cash crop in the High Country.
According to a fact sheet from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Ashe County realized $85 million in Christmas trees and greenery production in 2015.
Also, there are more than 12,000 acres of land in Christmas trees and greenery production, making Ashe the largest tree producing county in the United States. More than 3.5 million trees were harvested in 2015.
With a thriving industry comes additions to the labor market, which puts money back into the local economy.
Christmas trees provide 700 year round jobs and more than 2,000 jobs seasonally, according to the cooperative extension.
But evergreen trees aren’t the only major source of revenue for the industry.
A drive through the county any fall afternoon can show a new trend taking root, as pumpkins have emerged as leading cash crop locally.
There are now more than 900 acres of pumpkins in production valued at more than $5.5 million.
The cattle market continues to be a strong entity locally. Livestock sales in Ashe exceeded $9.4 million in 2015. There are currently 16,600 head of cattle, 363 goats and 964 head of sheep that comprise the local livestock industry.
And what would the livestock industry be without a supportive feed network?
More than 11,000 acres of hay were harvested last year, according the NCCE.
Several lesser known crops are also supplementing the local farmer’s market.
More than 30 million strawberry plants were grown here in 2015. And more than 20 beekeepers meet monthly to learn the best practices for bee keeping and honey production throughout the county.
Also, vegetable production continues to increase with more than $500,000 realized in local food production in 2014.