Troxler addresses state of NC ag
Tornadoes in April, summertime drought and Hurricane Irene as fall approached all conspired to steal away the early-season optimism that North Carolina farmers had going into 2011. On top of that, the closure of two poultry processing plants stole away company jobs and affected the livelihoods of 200 poultry farmers and their families.
Those were the low points of a disappointing year for Tarheel farmers in 2011, according to Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, who presented his State of Agriculture address during the North Carolina Agriculture Forum at the Southern Farm Show in Raleigh on Feb. 2.
Troxler has proposed a number of farmer assistance measures to the state legislature, including a bridge-loan program.
• Bad weather denied the promise of a great year for North Carolina ag in 2011.
• Agriculture commissioner Troxler wants state help for farmers in disaster counties.
• NCDA&CS opened a trade office in China in 2011.
“I’d like to see the [North Carolina] Agricultural Finance Authority administer a 20% loan-guarantee program for farmers in declared disaster counties who are in need of immediate cash-flow dollars,” Troxler said. “The finance authority would leave it up to private lenders to make a decision regarding whether to make short-term loans to farmers who have suffered as a result of the hurricane, but would guarantee up to 20% of the loan amount.”
Troxler says farmers get little help from the federal government in such situations and the federal help they do get comes too slowly, so he believes state assistance is needed.
“Farmers are resilient, and many are finding a way to make it to the next growing season,” Troxler said. “But the events of last year might force some farmers out of farming. We absolutely can’t afford to lose farmers. Agriculture is too important to our economy.”
NCDA&CS expanded in 2011
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which Troxler leads, is growing. During 2011, the General Assembly transferred the N.C. Forest Service, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, Sleep Products and Grade A Milk programs to NCDA&CS, bringing hundreds of employees, equipment, buildings and land to the department.
Troxler noted he is a “firm believer” in international trade, and supported the recent trade agreement with South Korea. NCDA&CS also opened a trade office in Beijing, China, in 2011, to develop trade opportunities.
“In countries with a growing middle class, like China, people want to eat better,” he said. “And I want North Carolina farmers to feed them.”
Troxler also supports the buy-local movement with the promotional “Got to Be NC” program, and he took the opportunity to promote the Farm to School program, which helps farmers get their products into the food supply chain. He noted he is aiming at topping the $1 million mark in sales of local foods to schools in 2012.
The commissioner noted he is concerned about spending cut proposals by the federal government, especially a proposal to cut the North Carolina field office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The proposal would consolidate field offices into nine regional offices. North Carolina would be served by an office in Lexington, Ky. Troxler hopes to influence the federal government to leave the current facility in North Carolina.
“We have several other items on our federal radar this year. These include overall agricultural appropriations and the creation of the next farm bill,” Troxler said. “There also are a number of proposed bills regarding farm labor and immigration rules, the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, several Environmental Protection Agency proposals that could impact agriculture, and issues regarding crop insurance rules for fresh markets and apples.
And we’ll be keeping an eye on a request for federal assistance for poultry producers affected by the closing of processing plants.”Of course, agriculture is a vitally important industry in North Carolina. Troxler noted the economic impact of agriculture and agribusiness is almost $70 billion, and that nearly 650,000 jobs in the state depend on the industry.
This article published in the April, 2012 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.