From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Spring is here and with it the beginning of new growth and renewal.
As a farmer, I always look forward to breaking ground and planting, knowing that with a little luck, some patience and decent growing conditions, I could look forward to the harvest of my work.
A copy of Gov. Mike Easley's proposed budget for 2007-2008 reminded me of the wonders of planting seeds, growing crops and the anticipation of harvest.
Since taking office, I have planted a good many seeds regarding the need to help farmers stay on their land and earn a decent living so they can keep the land in production. I've referred to it as farmland preservation, but my vision focuses on keeping farmland as working land, not as development or just open space.
I am optimistic that this will be the year we begin to see a harvest from these efforts. Gov. Easley included $6 million for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund in his proposed budget, a significant leap from zero funding in 2006-2007 and $50,000 in 2005-2006.
I appreciate the Governor's leadership on this issue and in recommending funding. There are many needs in the state, but I am grateful that he recognizes how important it is to invest in our agricultural and natural resources now while we can.
And I look at this as a particularly worthwhile investment in the future of agriculture and our state.
For the second year in a row, North Carolina has led the country in the loss of farms. Land values are on the rise, and in some areas of the state the values are skyrocketing.
While that's good for property owners, it also has its downside, too. Higher property values mean higher property taxes along with higher costs to buy or rent additional land for farming. These pressures often leave farmers with few choices but to sell. And I don't blame them.
But some farmers, like myself, don't want to sell off their family farms and would prefer to continue to work the land.
Some of the efforts of the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund are designed to help make it easier for farmers who want to keep working their lands.
Working farms are important to maintaining our ability to feed ourselves. They also provide natural habitat for wildlife and clean air and water for us all.
There is still a lot of work to do before a final budget is approved. The Governor's proposal will be debated by members of the General Assembly before a final ver-sion is agreed on, but farmland preservation funding has support in the legislature as well. In fact, legislators have introduced a bill recommending $10 million for the trust fund.
I encourage farmers to contact their legislators and talk to them about the importance of farmland preservation and the environmental benefits of keeping farmland in production versus covering land with concrete, homes and businesses.
I will keep you informed on the budget and other legislative issues as they develop.
Speaking of land loss, I want to briefly mention the debate about the Navy's proposal to build an outlying landing field in Washington County and why I have encouraged the Navy to consider an alternative location.
The project is expected to affect 30,000 acres of farmland through acquisition and use restrictions. Currently, almost 90 percent of the land proposed for this landing field is used for production agriculture, including 17,000 acres of corn and soybeans.
Taking this land out of production is estimated to cause agricultural losses of up to $6 million annually, which is significant to the local economy and the businesses and jobs supported by farming operations in the northeastern part of the state.
Without question I support the service and sacrifice of our country's military men and women. My father and his three brothers served in World War II, and I appreciate the freedoms we have because of their service and others like them.
But at a time when we are losing so many farms, taking 30,000 acres out of production is at odds with the need to keep farmland open for production. I believe it is also in opposition to our long-term goals to become more energy independent.
I hope the Navy will reconsider its plan and work with the state to find other site options.