From the tractor by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
This year is off to a busy, busy start, and I wanted to use my column this month to pass along some news items and updates that might be of interest to you.
First, I want to invite you to join me at the N.C. Ag Awareness Day at the Legislature on March 15. This will be the second Ag Awareness Day the department, N.C. Farm Bureau and other commodity associations have hosted, with the goal to raise awareness about the importance of agriculture and agribusiness to our economy. We are calling on members of the farm community to come to Raleigh and visit with your legislators to remind them that agriculture and agribusiness is our leading industry at $84 billion.
Plan to arrive at 9 a.m. at the State Fairgrounds, where shuttles will run downtown to the legislature. I encourage you to call ahead to schedule your visits with legislators between 9 and 11 a.m. or between noon and 2 p.m.
At 11 a.m. we will hold a rally on the Bicentennial Plaza located beside the Agriculture Building between the State Capitol and the Legislative Building.
A bagged lunch will be provided, and shuttles will run back to the fairgrounds until 3 p.m.
We need a strong turnout in Raleigh. I hope you will plan to attend March 15.
I also want to mention the diligent work of the Industrial Hemp Commission in moving forward with temporary rules for the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project, allowing for the application process to get underway.
Since the commission’s first meeting in November, members have worked quickly to develop rules for this brand new program to get them through the rule-making process, with the goal of allowing growers to put a crop in the ground in 2017.
The temporary rules have been approved by the Rules Review Commission, and the application period is now open for growers interested in the research pilot program.
To find a link to the application, go to our website and click on the Industrial Hemp page at http://www.ncagr.gov/hemp/.
In case you missed it, I also want to mention a few take away points from presentations by two N.C. State University economists who spoke at the Ag Development Forum in early February.
Economist Blake Brown looked at production numbers, demand and prices for a number of commodities, and the outlook was down in a number of areas. Referencing large supplies of livestock, he noted that prices are expected to decline in 2017. On the positive side, he anticipates exports being up for pork, poultry and beef.
On the crop side, Blake said there is a lot of corn, soybeans and peanuts, and cotton is struggling because cheap oil means cheap polyester and buying trends favor high-tech fibers using polyester.
A bright spot in terms of field crops is sweet potatoes, which has seen steady growth. Brown cautioned that there may have been an overproduction of sweet potatoes in 2016 as farmers shifted into a crop with growth potential. I have been involved in farming long enough to know with a degree of certainty that we can overproduce ourselves out of good profit margins fairly quickly. I hope that doesn’t happen with sweet potatoes, but we are going to need to see continued growth in demand.
Economist Mike Walden talked about some issues to watch that could affect agriculture, one of the biggest being U.S. policies regarding trade. Exports are significant for North Carolina agriculture, and therefore any trade policies affecting exports could be very significant.
Walden also noted that in North Carolina, the fastest growth in jobs were in high-paying and low-paying occupations, with less growth in the middle. Additionally, growth in large metro areas has continued in 2016, but there has also been rapid growth in non-metro areas, likely attributed to jobs related to tourism.
Ray Starling, who used to be general counsel for the department and now serves as chief of staff for Congressman Thom Tillis, also acknowledged concerns about trade policies and added that discussions on a new Farm Bill, changes regarding ag finance and regulatory reforms would be issues to watch in 2017.
I encourage you to stay engaged.