From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Like many people, the holidays and the end of the year serve as reminders to pause and take stock of the year coming to a close. This year has included a number of highlights for agriculture.
Despite the economy struggling to regain mo-mentum, the state's agri-culture and agribusiness sector experienced 6 percent growth. It remains North Carolina's leading industry, generating more than $74 billion to the economy and employing nearly a fifth of the workforce.
The trickle-down effect of these farm dollars is especially significant in rural areas of the state, where farm income supports local businesses, service-related jobs, schools and local governments. I hope to continue to see this kind of growth in the future. We remain committed to promoting North Carolina farm products and helping consumers learn more about all the great food and food products produced here in this state.
This year also saw the state's buy-local movement really gain traction. More and more restaurants are promoting the fact that they are featuring local meats, vegetables, fruits, cheeses and more on their menus. A good many of our grocery chains are now stocking and highlighting local products because of customer demand. Both of these venues have helped farmers sell their products.
The department's Farm to School program is another bright spot. This program posted a record 2009-2010 year with $800,000 worth of North Carolina commodities being served in school cafeterias across the state.
This program continues to gain in popularity with school kids, school nutrition directors and farmers. Commodity sales for the 2009-2010 school year were $100,000 above the previous year's totals.
In addition, agricultural exports increased by more than a billion dollars, thanks in part to focused international marketing efforts. For the first time ever, our agricultural exports topped $3 billion, and with China's growing economy, I believe we will continue to see export gains in the future.
And finally, we saw our best-attended State Fair in the history of the event. More than 1 million people came through the gates this year, shattering the previous record by nearly 200,000. We are already making plans for 2011. I hope we'll see you there next year, Oct. 13-23.
There have been some other highlights this year as well, but these are a few that stand out in my mind as examples of good programs that are contributing to the economy and supporting jobs and small businesses.