02/15/10 — Ag leadership program hears about state's changing industry

View Archive

Ag leadership program hears about state's changing industry

By Staff Reports
Published in News on February 15, 2010 1:46 PM

Full Size


State Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, left, gestures as he speaks to the Karl M. Best Leadership Program for agriculture and agribusiness professionals at Wayne Community College Wedneday. Other special guests at the session were Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, second from left; Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston; and Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne.

Tobacco is still a large part of North Carolina's agricultural income, but there have been some shifts in the cash crops of the state over the past few years, according to Dr. Blake Brown, North Carolina State agricultural and resource economics professor.

Brown addressed his remarks last week to a group of local farmers and agri-business professionals as part of the annual Karl M. Best Leadership program.

The program was implemented in 2007 when the Foundation of Wayne Community College and the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Service were awarded a $2,000 grant from East Carolina Farm Credit.

The purpose of the grant was to implement a program to improve the image of the agriculture industry by teaching farmers the impact of legislative process and good communication with business and industry neighbors.

On Wednesday, state Sens. Don Davis, D-Greene, and David Rouzer, R-Johnston, and state Reps. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, and Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, spoke about legislative issues and answered questions.

Davis was questioned particularly about his puppy mill bill and how it might affect some farmers. Those asking questions expressed concerns that the bill would just add more regulations to already heavy-regulated industries like the pork industry.

Davis sought to assure them that was not the case and pointed out there are exemptions. He also encouraged them to read the bill to see for themselves.

He said it is an emotional issue.

Sager noted that he had introduced a similar bill in the House. Rouzer said he understood what Davis' intentions were. However, he said he is known for his opposition to big government.

According to state statistics, in 1983, 27 percent of cash farm receipts in North Carolina came from tobacco. In 2008, that number dropped to 7 percent. During that same period, the value of production from poultry and hogs grew from 34 percent to 60 percent. Cash receipts from the sale of Christmas trees, greenhouse and nursery products grew from 3 percent to more than 12 percent of the total.

A major factor in the changing face of agriculture is the growth in North Carolina's population. An increasingly health conscious and affluent population is increasing the demand for specialty and locally grown produce and meats.

"The greatest threat to North Carolina agriculture is urban growth; the greatest opportunity for North Carolina agriculture is urban growth," Brown said.

For now, the eastern region of the state remains agriculturally intensive with traditional farmers, while the rest of the state is a growing mix of part-time and full-time farmers.

"It is amazing the diversity of agricultural crops in North Carolina," Brown said. "And it is in a concentrated, small geographical area -- yet we are in the top 10 farming states in the nation."

Brown was charged with helping tobacco farmers transition and diversify into other markets after the tobacco buyout program several years ago. The N.C. MarketReady program was funded in 2006 with money from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.

"Inherent to the name N.C. MarketReady is the message that our educational programs help North Carolina producers effectively compete in the marketplace," Brown said. "Market ready, or being ready for market, implies all facets of a business: research, business planning, production, management, food safety and marketing."

One of the new programs teaches growers Good Agricultural Practices to help them minimize fresh produce safety risks.

"Food safety is an issue and it is getting to be a bigger issue all the time," Brown said. "There is new legislation being circulated for the FDA governing food safety in general. With our GAPS training we are ahead of anyone else in the country," he said.

Brown travels throughout the state and said that farmers in the eastern region believe their greatest strengths include pride in their work and having a good work ethic.

"There is concern over population growth and the way that development is changing the character of the rural landscape," he said.

For more information visit www.ncmarketready.org.