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Agriculture faces challenges

JACKSON — It’s the industry every American takes for granted.

On Wednesday night, the agricultural industry got its chance to shine—at least in Northampton County.

The county’s farmers and government officials gathered at the Northampton County Cooperative Extension’s Farm-City Banquet.

Attendees heard from Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Steve Troxler; saw former Extension Agent Heather Lifsey honored for her work in Northampton County; and Northeast Academy student Jeffery Flythe recognized as the winner of an agricultural themed poster contest.

In 2007, Northampton County’s farms brought in more than $106 million in cash receipts and is a top five leader statewide in cotton (ranked #2 in the state) and peanut crops (ranked #5).

Troxler spoke of both the state’s bright agriculture future and the challenges for the agricultural community.

Agriculture in North Carolina continues to be a leading commodity for the state, despite the loss of 600,000 acres of farmland since 2002, as reported in the 2007 Agricultural Census.

Troxler also noted the debt/asset ratio, which he said is at its best in years.

“Our farmers have done a great job at handling debt,” he said.

He described the agricultural community as bright, but also spoke about the challenges the farming community will face in light of population growth, farmland loss, food safety and even government policy.

Troxler said since 2000 the state has seen a population boom of one million people and 3 million more are expected by 2030.

Both current and expected increase in population will increase North Carolina’s produce demand as well as take away farmland. At the same time, farms will be expected to increase their produce by three percent a year.

Troxler said it is up to North Carolina to meet that demand.

“We really need to work on our exporting produce,” he said. “Imagine us being dependant on foreign food.”

Diminishing farmland is not the only resource that needs to be preserved, but human resources as well. Troxler noted the average age of a Northampton County farmer (56) in comparison with the state’s average (57).

Troxler said government policy is something that continues to affect the agricultural community. He referred to the proposal for a statewide smoking ban making its way through the General Assembly and the $1 increase in tax on cigarettes.

“This will impact our farmers,” he said. “These are the kinds of things we are facing.”

Troxler also spoke about food safety and the numerous recent food scares and recalls as well as the importance of consumer confidence in American produce.

The future of North Carolina produce was also discussed by Troxler. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been successful in branding the state’s produce through their “Got to be NC” program, which has won two national awards.

Troxler said there is a future in harvesting the state’s woody biomass for alternative fuel creation.

“To not only feed and cloth (consumers), but to provide fuel…these are the bright spots out there,” he said.

Ellis Taylor, chair of the Northampton County Agricultural Advisory Board, presented former Agricultural Extension Agent Heather Lifsey with a framed map of Northampton County in honor of her work with the board, which works to preserve farmland through the county’s voluntary agricultural district ordinance.

Lifsey said it was an effort she did not do alone.

“It says a lot about our farming community to preserve farmland,” she said. “A lot of counties did not have that foresight.”

Lifsey is now working to get the same ordinance passed in Chowan County where she is the Cooperative Extension director.

Northeast Academy 4th grade student Jeffery Flythe was also recognized. He was presented a $50 savings bond for winning a poster contest in which students were asked to express what agriculture means to them.