As the sweetness of stevia leaves becomes more popular as a substitute for sugar, state researches are looking forward to showing how Sampson County is playing a major role.
The 2018 Stevia Field Day is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, at the Horticulture Crops Research Station, 2450 Faison Hwy. Clinton. The event will give visitors a chance to learn more about the crop, with tours and presentations during the day. Researchers from North Carolina State University will be available to answer questions during the tour.
Dave Shew, a NCSU professor of plant pathology, will be one of several officials at the event, which is part of a new multi-state consortium working with stevia.
“North Carolina has basically taken the lead on this and we have for a number of years,” Shew said regarding previous field days. “What we’re trying to do is generate the information necessary to make stevia viable for the Southeast and, specifically, for North Carolina.”
Shew and other researchers got involved in 2012 with testing trials related to pest management and weed control. With problems identified, he said it’s now a matter of working with agrochemicals for treatment. Research led by Dr. Todd Wehner of NSCU’s department of horticulture science also includes looking at varieties that go well with North Carolina’s climate and meet the demands of the industry.
Stevia is native to Paraguay and is becoming more popular in the United States as companies look for sugar substitutes. According to extension officials, the leaves contain glycosides up to 300 times sweeter than sucrose that can be extracted for use as nonnutritive sweeteners. It also has a glycemic index score of zero making it safe for consumption by diabetic users.
In the early 1990s, the product was banned in the United States. But in 2008, the United States Department of Agriculture approved stevia as an additive. Multiple products are used with stevia extracts, including Truvia, Sweet Leaf and Stevia in the Raw.
Rodney Mozingo, research operations manager for the Clinton station, is looking forward to the event.
“We’re growing it at the station and we’re glad to be a part of it and showing what we can (do with it),” Mozingo said.
He also expressed that there’s been a lot of research and demand for stevia becuase of the health benefits and it becoming an alternative to other sweeteners.
“There’s a lot of interest in it,” Mozingo said. “Larger companies have a huge demand for this type sweetener. It appears to be a growing industry.”
Globally, the market is more than $400 million annually and is expected to increase as new products are introduced.
Check-in for the event will be from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. Thursday. Next, at 8:30 a.m., visitors will be welcomed by officials and Dr. Steve Lommel, director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service. Tours of breeding plots, disease examples, and herbicide trials will follow. According to officials, pesticide credits will be available for those attending the event.
Registration for the event is open at www.tinyurl.com/ycjl48fs.