From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
North Carolina leads the country or is near the top in many areas of agriculture, which is something I am very proud of. Tobacco, sweet potatoes, poultry and egg cash receipts, hogs, Christmas tree cash receipts, trout sold and turkeys are just a few of our nation-leading commodities. Even as our state has added new industries, it has continued to build on its agricultural roots.
With such rich ties to the soil, it seems only fitting that one of the lands' most passionate promoters was from North Carolina. Hugh Hammond Bennett of Anson County was a true pioneer in to soil and water conservation. In the 1930s, he toured the country talking about soil and water conservation efforts with anyone who would listen. His message was anything but popular, but his experience and gut told him he needed to continue spreading that message if farmers in the future were going to have any chance of producing crops. Bennett believed that our society must put every acre of land to its best use and treat every acre according to its needs.
He served in the highest levels of government, but worked alongside farmers whenever he was demonstrating soil conservation techniques and encouraged his staff to do so as well – showing versus telling farmers the best practices for the soil.
From his efforts a movement began, a movement that we are celebrating this year – the 75th anniversary of Soil and Water Conservation. In fact, the very first soil and water conservation district in the country was established in North Carolina in 1937 in Bennett's home county. Bennett encouraged President Franklin Roosevelt to send legislation to the nation's governors urging them to establish soil conservation districts.
To highlight the anniversary, several articles in this issue of the Agricultural Review will focus on soil and water conservation, some of its programs and how the districts help farmers and communities manage their natural resources. As many of you may remember, the legislature transferred the Division of Soil and Water Conservation to my department this year.
I have been to numerous meetings since the transfer, welcoming staff to the department and pledging our continued support of conservation programs.
I believe soil conservation is just as important and relevant today as it was during Bennett's time. Arguably, he had a tougher message to sell, given that few farmers had ever considered soil conservation, but we need to continue to protect our best, most fertile farmland.
That is especially true as we see more and more farm and timber land being converted to shopping centers and subdivisions. We are going to need to produce even more on lands that remain in production agriculture in the future. Preventing erosion and topsoil loss will be critical to these lands remaining their most productive.
As North Carolinians, we should all be proud that soil and water conservation got its start in the state. North Carolina has a rich history of visionary leadership, and the creation of the Soil and Water Conservation Program is a great example of forward-thinking change.
As our state has changed, so too has the work of soil and water districts and supporting partners. Soil and water is working to address challenges in urban areas and on non-agricultural lands as well as farmland. By applying the lessons learned from soil and water conservation to non-agricultural lands, we are also addressing the challenges of urbanized areas with regards to storm water issues, sedimentation and nutrient management.
As we begin the next 75 years, we are still looking forward. I believe water quantity will be an increasingly important issue to address. We have been working on a new program – Agricultural Water Resources Assistance Program, known as AgWRAP– that will look at increasing agricultural water storage capacities in the state. Previous periods of drought have shown us that our farmers will need access to water to be able to grow crops and raise livestock. AgWRAP will look at ways to achieve this objective.
Efforts are under way in North Carolina to honor and recognize Bennett's lifetime of service to farmers. In 2010, the N.C. Friends of Agriculture Foundation was formed, in part, to help raise money to build a museum dedicated to North Carolina's agricultural history. We hope to build the museum at the State Fairgrounds, where we can incorporate the museum into annual fair events highlighting North Carolina agriculture.
Fittingly, Bennett's work and contributions to soil and water conservation will be an important part of the museum.
If you or your family would like to become a "Friend of Agriculture," we would welcome your support. To learn more the foundation, go to www.ncfriendsofagriculture.org.
Online donations can be made through this secure website, or you can mail it to The N.C. Agricultural Foundation Inc., Campus Box 7645, N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7645. Checks should be made payable to N.C. Friends of Agriculture Fund.
It is going to take some time to reach our goal, but with the support of our farmers and agribusinesses, I know this museum will become a reality.