Agriculture and Agribusiness was the leading industry in North Carolina generating about $76 billion in value added income and accounting for about 660,000 jobs. Between 2007 and 2012 North Carolina lost 62,500 acres and between 2009 and 2015 we lost 3600 farms, almost all of them family farms. Today we are still among the leading states in loss of family farms.The percentage of loss is greatest among African-American farmers. The average age of farmers in North Carolina is around 59 years old. We will use every resource available to help keep family farms in business and to encourage younger people to farm. We will partner with the private industry, NC State University, and NC A&T (our land grant universities) to find more crops that can be grown profitably on smaller acreages. We will work with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service to help smaller farmers become more profitable. I will have the Department of Agriculture place special emphasis on encouraging and helping to find young new farmers. We will work closely with our Land Grant Universities to identify potential new farmers and inform them of educational programs, loans, and grants that are available for beginning farmers. We will start a program to find young people interested in agriculture and pair them with existing farmers who are willing to mentor them and incorporate them into the family farm business. However none of these proposals will work if the farm cannot make a profit so we must continue to develop specialty crops and value added crops that can make small farms profitable. The specialty crop program we used to have ended in 2008 and we need to revisit this program and get it up and running again.
What we are currently doing is not enough to strengthen our agricultural industry and ensure the survival of family farms in North Carolina. We are doing the same things we have done for the past several years and it is not working. We need new leadership with new ideas and innovative solutions so that we can move North Carolina agriculture into the 21st century.