11/06/07 — Agriculture event will explore farming's role in the economy

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Agriculture event will explore farming's role in the economy

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 6, 2007 1:45 PM

With Wayne County, historically an agricultural community, on the leading edge of the growth and development spilling out of the Triangle, the feeling among many community leaders is that now is the time to engage residents on the role that farming plays in their lives.

"Most people have no idea where their food comes from," county Cooperative Extension agricultural agent Kevin Johnson said. "Go into any school and ask a child where their food comes from, and they'll say the grocery store."

And while that's true, those products don't just appear on the shelves.

Farmers must grow the crops and raise the livestock. Agribusinesses, such as Franklin Baking Co., Mt. Olive Pickle and Waco Ham Co., must then process those into the foods people buy and eat.

For Wayne County, agriculture is the No. 1 business, pulling in more than $320 million in receipts -- more than 20 percent of the county's gross income. It's a percentage that mirrors agriculture's leading role in the state -- $68.3 billion and 22 percent annually.

Additionally, Wayne is ranked third in the state in terms of wheat and turkeys raised, fourth in soybeans and swine, ninth in tobacco and 10th in cotton. All in all, those numbers add up to it being ranked fourth in North Carolina in terms of total farm income.

In fact, according to a 2005 edition of "Farm Futures" magazine, Wayne County was recognized as the fifth best place in the nation to farm based on profits per farm, sales growth, asset growth and profit growth.

"I think the advantages we have in farming in Wayne County are great," county Cooperative Extension Director Howard Scott said.

But it's also somewhat ironic, Johnson added, because according to the Rural Center, Wayne is considered an urban county because of it's population per square mile.

And that, he continued will present challenges in the future as that growth continues.

So, in hopes of educating people about agriculture, the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Service, the Karl Best Agricultural Awareness Committee and Wayne Community College are partnering to present Agricultural Expo 2007 -- the first of an event they hope will become an annual affair.

It will kick off on Sunday, Nov. 18, with a friendly softball game between the county's farming and urban communities at 3 p.m. at the college, and will culminate in the annual Farm-City Banquet on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Wayne Center, where N.C. Grange President Jimmy Gentry will be the keynote speaker.

In between will be the bulk of the expo, which is open to all county residents.

On Monday, beginning at 9 a.m., county Manager Lee Smith will discuss land use and urbanization issues in the college's Moffett Auditorium in the main building. He will be followed at 10:15 a.m. by Johnson, who will address globalization and agriculture in a global economy.

On Tuesday, beginning at 10:15 a.m., Chris Coates with East Carolina Farm Credit will discuss loans for farmers, and at 11:15 a.m., Bryant Worley, chairman of the county Soil and Water Conservation Board will discuss conservation issues.

Then, on both days, Show Time -- a trade show for agribusinesses and business interested in working with the agriculture community -- will be held in the atrium from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Businesses interested in participating are asked to call the chamber at 734-2241.

Additionally, any businesses wishing to sponsor the expo should also call the chamber. Currently the two-day event is being sponsored by Mount Olive College, Mt. Olive Pickle, Crop Protection Services and Franklin Baking Co.