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Gator-farming spreads north

November 18, 1997

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (AP) _ Richmond County, N.C., is not the Everglades, but you might forget that soon with a visit to Tommy Peacock’s farm.

He is about to become North Carolina’s first alligator farmer.

Alligator farming had been illegal in North Carolina until this summer, when state lawmakers, at Peacock’s urging, changed the law.

For Peacock and his partner, poultry farmer Roy McDonald, raising gators seems like a logical idea.

Peacock has plenty of technical help _ an uncle and cousin are gator farmers in Florida. His partner, poultry farmer Roy McDonald, sees the gator farm as an opportunity to get rid of chickens that die of stress during the summer. Most farm-raised gators, after all, eat ground poultry.

Peacock is starting the farm with 10 houses, capable of holding 200 alligators. He hopes to eventually expand to 30 houses.

While some residents near the Beaver Dam community have expressed concerns about the alligators escaping, Peacock says their worries are unfounded. The 10-house unit will have a 4-foot-high fence around it.

``They’re not too agile at climbing, Peacock says.

If all goes well, within three years his gator hatchlings will be 5 to 6 feet long. When they are mature, the alligators will be taken to a slaughtering plant in Florida. At $35 a foot for hides and $8 a pound for meat, Peacock believes his first crop could bring $450,000.

Despite the profits, he doesn’t expect alligator farms to start showing up all over the state. The investment is substantial, and the toothy reptiles take a lot longer to mature than hogs or chickens.

``If you think these will be popping up all over the community, you can forget that,″ Peacock says, adding that gator farms ``are not something that you’ll see much of in North Carolina.″

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KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) _ The potato crop in Washington state will be smaller than last year’s record, but still the third largest in history.

That’s good news for farmers.

``In 1996, too many potatoes were planted in all areas of the country, and they all got harvested,″ said Dale Lathim, executive director of the Potato Growers of Washington.

That produced dismal prices for farmers who raised potatoes for grocery store sale. In some cases, those fresh market potatoes didn’t bring enough money to cover the costs of sorting, bagging and shipping.

A year ago, a 10-pound bag of potatoes was sold wholesale for 50 cents. Last week, the same size bag wholesaled for 70 cents, said Jeff Main of Marketing News Service in Yakima.

Farmers who grew potatoes for processing into frozen potatoes and other products also suffered in 1996. About 80 percent of the state’s crop is processed into products such as french fries.

``Last year, no matter what you did, you lost money,″ said Lathim.

This year, most farmers are making money because they cut back their plantings, Lathim said.

Washington farmers planted 148,000 acres this year, compared with 161,000 acres in 1996, said Doug Hasslen, state agricultural statistician.

They grossed $553 million from potatoes in 1995, the last year with complete statistics, making potatoes the state’s fourth-most-valuable crop.

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