Troxler sees ‘green’ in R-C area

Published 12:37 pm Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rolling down the highways and back roads of the Roanoke-Chowan area, North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler was pleasantly greeted by plenty of “green” here Wednesday and Thursday.

Noting the healthy condition of local crops, the state’s “top farmer” made visits to Bertie, Gates and Hertford counties during his tour of eastern North Carolina agricultural operations.

“Looks like ya’ll had some rain here in this part of the state,” Commissioner Troxler said during his Thursday morning visit to Umphlett Brothers Farm in Gates County. “It’s dry back in Raleigh and points west. The crops here appear to be in good shape.”

While visiting one-on-one with Robbie Umphlett, the Commissioner listened as the Gates County farmer showed deep concern regarding fluctuating fertilizer costs.

“Input costs is always of major concern for farmers,” Troxler noted. “Input costs have outpaced the price farmers receive for their commodities over the past few years. However, those input costs appear to be declining slightly, which in turn helps the farmer’s bottom line on his or her financial spreadsheet.”

Speaking with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Troxler addressed several agricultural related issues, including environmental regulations and the Navy’s plans to possibly build an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in the Sand Banks area of Gates County.

“If the federal government and the state keeps imposing regulation after regulation on our farmers, they’re going to regulate them right out of business,” the Commissioner said.

In regards to the OLF, Troxler noted that North Carolina has led the nation for the last few years in the loss of agricultural land to development.

“We’re losing farms,” he said, “and I’ll fight to protect the farms we still have, especially in this case with the OLF. The Navy has other options.”

Troxler mentioned that the Navy could relocate their Oceana (Va.) based fighter squadrons to Cherry Point where Craven County officials have said they would be welcomed.

“But Virginia Beach (where the current OLF is located) wants to keep the squadrons and send us their noise and take our farms,” Troxler said. “We’re on top of this and are continuing to monitor this as the issue develops.”

After leaving Gates County, Troxler and his entourage headed to a luncheon with Hertford County farmers and ag officials at Catherine’s Restaurant in Ahoskie.

“Fighting for agriculture is getting harder and harder these says,” Troxler told his Ahoskie audience. “With the state’s population shifting to the major metropolitan areas, 14 counties now control the political power. That shifts the power away from our rural areas.”

Picking back up on the environmental concerns he addressed earlier in Gates County, Troxler said the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) wants to take control over all water within the state.

“That a shift away from what at one time was only control over navigable waterways,” he said. “I think it’s getting to the point where the EPA wants to control everything, right down to the mud holes.”

One farmer at the Ahoskie luncheon later touched on that same issue, saying his operation needed the easement of wetlands restrictions….adding, “we need to impound more water to irrigate our crops.”

“We’re working with DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), Soil & Water Conservation and the Corps of Engineers to develop a template used for farm ponds,” Troxler said. It’s a complicated issue to impound water, even on your own farm.”

He continued, “What I would really like to see is for all regulating agencies to go five straight days without food before making decisions that impact agriculture. I think these agencies have forgotten from where food comes from. If they keep on regulating food supplies, you’ll see those supplies go poof.”

In another water related issue, Troxler said it wasn’t true that farmers are the state’s largest users of water.

“We’ve got a survey to prove that’s not correct….as a matter of fact, the survey shows that farmers use less than two percent of all water in the state. I don’t want to see them regulate the water to a point where you guys can’t irrigate your crops.”

Troxler again mentioned the importance of agriculture, saying that Americans consume 900 million meals every day.

“Multiply that by 365 and you can see how critical it is to keep the food supply intact,” he noted. “Any breaks or interruptions in that food supply will have an adverse impact all over this nation.”

Troxler also spoke of his recent visit to China. There, he was involved in trade talks with Chinese agricultural officials.

“We need to open more doors to export our state’s commodities, especially tobacco,” said Troxler, noting the recent round of domestic regulations and price hikes to the “golden leaf.”

The Commissioner added that China officials are planning to soon visit North Carolina.

“We’d like to see them open an office in our state where we can further discuss the trade issues, including our pork and poultry products,” he said. “We need to continue to develop our relationship with China as well as other markets around the world.”

While in the Roanoke-Chowan area, Troxler also visited Charles Harden’s cucumber farm in Windsor; Avoca Farms in Merry Hill; and Todd Lewis’ cotton and peanut farm in Hobbsville.