From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Our Research Stations Division has had an exceptionally busy fall, but it has been a good kind of busy.
In 2013, the General Assembly approved $2.5 million in funding to modernize equipment at the research stations. Additionally, funding for bio-energy development shifted from the nonprofit Biofuels Center of North Carolina to our department, and our staff is now tasked with administering the program and grants.
North Carolina has a long history of supporting agricultural research, and no doubt that is one of the reasons why agriculture and agribusiness remain our state’s leading industry. I see today’s research efforts as a long-term investment in the future of this vital industry, and even more necessary today as more and more consumers rely on a smaller number of farmers for food and fiber.
Some people may view agricultural production as an industry of the past, but I would argue it is anything but that. New technology, new equipment and new ideas are changing agriculture in exciting and much needed ways. I even saw a story recently that talked about how agriculture could become one of the biggest users of drone technology as a means to monitor crops and boost production.
At its core, agriculture is about food and fiber production. In my mind, it will always be an essential industry.
The truth of the matter is that less than 2 percent of the world population feeds the remaining 98 percent. And our population continues to grow. By 2050, the United Nations predicts farmers will need to produce 75 percent more food than they currently do today. That is going to present production challenges, especially as we continue to lose land to development and as our farmers continue to age. Maximizing yields in the past has had more to do with production efficiency and bottom lines than necessity. But as our population grows and food demands increase, we will need to be more efficient than ever. 2050 may seem like a long way off, but it’s really only 37 more cropping seasons.
I appreciate the General Assembly making this investment in agricultural research a budget priority. In the short term, we should see some savings at the farm level as we decrease maintenance costs for older equipment and as we more efficiently use seed, land and fertilizer resources. Most of the equipment being ordered should be on hand by spring.
I am proud of the research partnership we have with N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University. This collaboration has served our state well and I look forward to more successes in the future.
Bio-energy development is another area where I think North Carolina will benefit greatly from being so forward thinking. Research and development of biofuels is well under way in our state, in part because of the potential this technology offers in terms of jobs and economic opportunities.
The budget provides the department with $500,000 for grants this fiscal year and $1 million next year. In addition, we were able to work it out so that most of the existing research and development projects previously funded by the Biofuels Center could continue.
Going forward, our focus will be on research and development of dedicated feedstocks for biofuels production. We believe that cellulosic ethanol facilities and similar bio-based industries will provide opportunities to grow our farm income. We need to shift the focus away from agricultural commodities that are feedstocks for humans or livestock.
We want to leverage current technology, develop more applied technology and identify the gaps, so that we can help farmers and the biofuels industry move forward.
Recently, the Italian biofuels company Biochemtex announced plans to build an ethanol plant in Sampson County. The plan will use grasses, not corn, to make fuel.
I think Biochemtex’s announcement shows that North Carolina is continuing to move forward in developing biofuels. Our state has a great opportunity to become a leader in feedstock production for biofuels because we have the right combination of natural resources, excellent farmers, top universities and strong industry partners.
As I mentioned before, agriculture is definitely not an industry of the past. I am only encouraged by what I see happening in terms of investment in agriculture in this state by our legislature, by agricultural researchers, by agribusinesses and also by farmers. I hope this investment encourages more young people to look at agriculture as a possible career choice.