NCSFMRA: Photos From Hyde County Summer Tour 2023

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Members of the North Carolina Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers participated in a tour of select sites in “far eastern” North Carolina this past summer. The tour was led and organized by Robert Andrew Branan – Associate Extension Professor with Agriculture and Resource Economics – and Andrea Gibbs – field crops Extension Agent with Hyde County Cooperative Extension, and included sites in Hyde and Beaufort Counties. Following are some photos of the tour.

Andrea Gibbs – Hyde County Cooperative Extension field crops agent – discussing salt water impact on crop yield

Our first site visit took us to a farm field bordering Pamlico Sound suffering from salt water intrusion. Salt water intrusion is attributed to various causes, one theory pointing to rising sea levels. Tests at several sites across eastern NC have revealed rising levels of saline in the water table, likely migrating through groundwater but also through the drainage system emptying into sounds. Salt water impacts productivity of primary crops in the area, notably soybean and corn.

A tiny glimpse of Eastern NC’s vast agricultural drainage system

We followed Andrea’s Cooperative Extension presentation and site visit with a side trip to the famous Gibbs General Merchandise Store in the small fishing village of Engelhard. The store – established in 1895- offers a merchandise selection of guns, hardware, clothing, fishing gear, about anything you could need to enjoy that remote area of NC.

A side trip to famous Gibbs General Store in Engelhard

The next stop on the tour was the famous Mattamuskeet Lodge, located just off Highway 264 near Swan Quarter. The Lodge – long decrepit but under renovation – was originally built as a pumping station in 1915 as part of a farming venture to drain the shallow 40,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet for access to its rich soils for farm production. 

A view of the lodge and its famous tower as a summer shower rolls in

The pumping station when operating at full capacity could pump 1.2 million gallons of water per minute, which then drained by canal out to Pamlico Sound. After failure of the farming ventures during the Great Depression, the lake was purchased by the federal government and designated  by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in 1934. The pumping station was thereafter converted to a lodge for hunters, which operated until changes to hunting regulations in the refuge closed it to overnight guests. The structure was deemed structurally unfit in 2000 and closed to the public.

The Mattamuskeet pumping station canal draining toward Pamlico Sound

The Mattamuskeet Lodge is currently in renovation, with hopes of further appropriations from the NC General Assembly to complete the work. Once open to the public, there are plans for shops as well as the new home of Hyde County Cooperative Extension. Tour participants were very fortunate to have a USFWS volunteer on hand for a tour of the ongoing renovations (again, thanks to Ms. Gibbs).

NCSFMRA members were fortunate to get a tour and update on lodge renovation from  USFWS volunteer (and former Refuge biologist) Kelly Davis

Schematic of the pumping station operation, sitting atop the derelict pumps (in background)

Following an excellent lunch in Swan Quarter provided by The Quarter Deli, Andrea directed us to Pamlico Shores Produce, LLC, a potato packing and distribution facility. We arrived in what appeared to be the height of potato packing season (which runs from mid-June to early August) with trucks rolling in and unloading during our visit.

We were fortunate to have owner Hunter Gibbs (who co-owns the company with Dawson Pugh) on hand to give us a tour of the operation, including the unloading of the dirt-crusted potatoes, their initial gleaning, sorting and washing (the latter largely automated), through packaging, storage, and loading for distribution. Pamlico Shores Produce packages potatoes for a variety of customers from Walmart to smaller food outlets.

Newly-dug potatoes arriving for processing at Pamlico Shores Produce, LLC located in Swan Quarter, NC

The 20,000 sq foot Pamlico Shores Produce facility can cold-store potatoes for on-demand distribution

Sorting into bins for bulk distribution

One step in the post-wash automated sorting

Pre-wash gleaning and debris removal

Making our way westward along Highway 264, our last stop on the tour was Circle Grove Seeds just east of Belhaven, NC. Originally founded in 1947, the facility is now owned and operated by Darren Armstrong – an NCSU Agricultural Institute graduate – and his spouse Dawn Armstrong, whose sons also help out in the operation during summers off from school. The facility is a seed cleaning operation, processing and cleaning seeds for market on behalf of major seed distributors as well as custom contracts.

Darren and Dawn Armstrong discussing operations at Circle Grove Seeds in Belhaven

A glimpse of seeds palleted for shipment at Circle Grove Seeds in Belhaven

A small part of Circle Grove Seeds large bin complex

The tour closed with dinner in historic Washington, NC, which served as our home base.

Thanks to all the NCSFMRA members who participated, as well as our tour stop hosts, and most especially Andrea Gibbs, who established our itinerary and without whom the trip would have been quite impossible! She well demonstrated her deep knowledge of the area’s agricultural production, its culture and its people.


The NC Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers – an independent society hosted by NC State’s Agricultural and Resource Economics – is a forum for all sectors of Agriculture to come together and focus on the land that supports their livelihood providing food, fiber, and fuel. We offer over 50 years of fellowship among farmers, appraisers, owners,  educators, and rural managers. Members of NCSFMRA are a “family of the fields” coming together from the Mountains of North Carolina to the Carolina Coast. Together we can focus  on the land that supports everyone’s lives.

The NCSFMRA provides a scholarship each year to a deserving Agricultural Business Management student who desires to return to their family farming operation after graduation. Secure online gifts may be made online.