North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer (NCDA&CS)
The mission of NCDA&CS is to provide services that promote and improve agriculture and agribusiness, protect consumers and businesses, and preserve farmland and natural resources for the prosperity of all North Carolinians. NCDA&CS is a complex agency with 21 Divisions. It affects every person in North Carolina one way or another. Sometimes it is difficult to determine which of the 21 Divisions you need to talk with when you have a problem. My goal is for NCDA&CS to be the most efficient and responsive agency in the State Government. That is why I will set up a HOTLINE for anyone to call who is having problems with agency rules or regulations, has concerns about the agency, or has suggestions. My goal is to establish one telephone number, that will put the taxpayer in touch with someone at NCDA&CS who can assist them or listen to them.
We want to do everything possible to help the farmers and consumers in North Carolina. I will cut red tape by reviewing applications, procedures, and regulations required of farmers and agribusiness owners. I will make every effort to simplify the paperwork and procedures in order to make them easier to understand and follow. I will also work with USDA officials to streamline procedures and regulations to make it easier for farmers participating in federal programs.
Agriculture must remain strong in North Carolina. With the right leadership we can add billions of dollars to the economy and thousands of jobs to the workforce. The agriculture industry has more potential for growth than any other industry in North Carolina. There are three keys to expanding agribusiness and saving family farms. They are innovation, diversity and marketing. Through innovation and technology we can improve production methods and develop new value-added products. By diversifying our farms through organic farming, sustainable farming, community supported agriculture ventures, agritourism, wind farming, and solar farming we will strengthen our farm base and attract younger people to agriculture. Finally, we will aggressively market our agricultural products. All of these ideas are like pieces of a puzzle. Once you put them together you can see a picture of a bright future for the agricultural industry in North Carolina.
Family farms are the backbone of North Carolina Agriculture. According to data from NC State University, Agriculture and Agribusiness is the leading industry in North Carolina generating $70 billion in value added income and accounting for 660,000 jobs.. We need to do everything possible to protect our farms. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, between 1999 and 2006, the state lost 10,000 farms and close to 500,000 acres of farmland. The losses are even greater among African-American farmers. The average age of farmers in North Carolina is around 58. We will use every resource available to help keep these 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 assist farmers in becoming more diversified and finding 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 proficient in production and marketing. I will have the Department place special emphasis on encouraging and helping to find young new farmers. We will work closely with our Land Grant Universities and farm organizations to identify potential new farmers and inform them of educational programs, loans, and grants that are available for beginning farmers.
Marketing is just as important to agriculture and agribusiness as having a product to sell. Farmers can have a bountiful harvest but if they cannot sell their crops they cannot stay in business. We cannot be content with just finding new crops and products. We must also find markets. We will start by expanding our in-state markets by promoting more sustainable agriculture projects that partner local businesses with local farmers, more farms that sell meat directly to the consumer, and use other innovative methods to market our products across North Carolina. We have to look nationally and globally and continue to promote North Carolina products. We need to intensify our efforts to find new markets throughout the world. We will work with other state agencies, marketing associations, and the federal government. When the federal government negotiates global trade agreements I will fight to insure all North Carolina crops are included in the agreements.
To maximize our marketing efforts we are also going to have to invest in the infrastructure of North Carolina. We need to improve ground transportation, our rail system and our ports. With a state as large as North Carolina we need efficient and effective ways to get our agricultural products from the farmer to the consumer. We don't need toll roads that add more cost to the farmer to transport their crops across the state. We do need a more complete rail system because this is still the most effecient and cost effective method of moving products to our ports. We also need more grain storage and refrigerated storage at our ports and we need a deep water port so that our farm products that are shippped overseas can be shipped from our own ports and don't have to go to another state.
Food and Consumer Safety
Did you know that NCDA&CS regulates food, drugs, medical device, motor fuels and propane, and pesticide licenses? I will make sure we take food and consumer safety seriously. North Carolina produces an abundant supply of seafood, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. We want the consumer to know that if it was produced in North Carolina it is healthy and safe. We will work together with farmers, businesses and the public to educate them and inform them how to keep foods safe. We need to be more proactive in preventing food contamination from the farmer to the consumer. I want North Carolina to be number one in food and consumer safety.
Now that the North Carolina Forest Service and the Division of Soil and Water have been moved to the NCDA&CS, the commissioner has the authority and the responsibility to protect our environment and our drinking water. I have worked closely for over 30 years with both of these divisions in my job with the US Dept. of Agriculture. We worked together to encourage landowners to plant trees, create and maintain wetlands, plant vegetation to prevent soil runoff, promote wildlife habitats, and establish buffers to keep pollutants from entering our streams and rivers. We need to partner with the private sector to find funding for conservation easements in order to preserve our farmland, wetlands, and forests for future generations. We also need to do more than just talk about "Going Green". We must actively participate with farmers and agribusinesses to encourage them to "Go Green". I will dedicate resources within NCDA&CS to encourage and promote green farms and agribusinesses. We will also actively promote Green farms and businesses and help them to find markets for their products. We will work closely with our Land Grant Universities and with the North Carolina Extension Service to educate our farmers and to find innovative ways to protect our environment. We all need to work together to protect our environment and keep our water supply safe.
Agricultural Research Stations
I strongly support keeping the Agricultural Research Stations open. They are important to the economy of North Carolina. The research at these stations leads to higher productivity, reduced energy costs, increased farm income, and more employment opportunities. The Research Stations are strategically place throughout the state to take advantage of the diverse commodities, climate, soils, and topography in North Carolina. Agriculture depends on research and development to keep it profitable. Keeping agriculture profitable ultimately results in lower food costs for all consumers.
Agriculture is important to a rural community and a strong rural community is vital to the future of North Carolina. Rural communities need the same things urban areas need and that is jobs, education, health care services, utilities, and infrastructure. Just as agriculture provides stability, jobs, and products for the community, the community provides jobs for small farmers who need additional income to pay their bills. I will work to keep sustainable rural communities in North Carolina. I will fight to continue to expand public internet to rural areas until every community has access to broadband internet. I will work to build partnerships between agriculture and the business community by engaging local politicians and chambers of commerce to encourage them to promote the use of locally produced farm products. We have an abundant food supply in North Carolina and we need to ensure that our children and the poor have adequate food. We must continue to develop specialty crops that can be produced profitably on small to medium sized farms. The Department of Agriculture, other state and local agencies, and tourism groups must work together to do a better job promoting agricultural related tours. I believe that we can and must do a better job of educating the public about the importance of agriculture. I will advocate adding a course on the history of agriculture in North Carolina to elementary schools and taking the children on tours to local farms. Many of the children in school today do not know where eggs, milk, cereals, and vegetables come from. We need to take a look at our vocational agriculture courses and make sure they continue to reflect current needs and then recruit students for these courses. I will encourage our community colleges to add more agricultural related courses and degrees. This is important because not everyone can afford to attend four year colleges or the two year agriculture institute program taught at NC State University. Tax laws must be written to protect family farms and small agribusiness. The estate tax law that will be debated by our state legislature must not penalize family farms and small businesses that are being inherited by family members who want to continue to operate them. I will advocate for exemptions for bona fide family farms and small businesses.
These are just a few ways we can continue to strengthen and revitalize our rural communities. The bottom line is it will take a cooperative effort from many areas using every resource available. I believe that strong rural communities are necessary for the future of North Carolina and I will help to coordinate the joint partnerships needed to provide sustainable rural communities in North Carolina.
The NCDA&CS is responsible for ensuring that animal shelters, kennels, pets shops and public animal auctions are complying with the North Carolina Animal Welfare Act. I take this responsibility seriously. I will ensure that domesticated animals are treated humanely and that the animal welfare laws in North Carolina are enforced. We have a problem with "puppy mills" in North Carolina. We are becoming known nationwide as the "puppy mill" state because we have no laws to effectively regulate "puppy mills". As Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services I will push for reasonable laws that will not place hardships on responsible breeders but will put an end to "puppy mills".
Farm animal welfare is not directly administered by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, however I will also be an advocate for the humane treatment of farm animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse. Most of the farmers in North Carolina treat their farm animals humanely, but there is always room for improvement. We must encourage more research on livestock well-being so that we can develop scientific methods to measure stress on animals. Once we better understand what causes stress, then we can find methods for treating our animals better. I can assure you that as commissioner I will not tolerate animal cruelty.