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Agricultural Review

TroxlerFrom the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler

Efforts to trim the federal government's budget have been in the news lately, and are something that we as a state agency are watching closely because of the potential impact on our programs and services.

Some of the programs within the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services receive grants or funding through our federal partners, and any reduction in those funds could mean we may be scrambling to continue the projects and services that we have been able to provide via this partnership.

One specific budget-cutting example we are aware of is a proposal to close the North Carolina Field Office of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Under a proposal approved by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, NASS field offices across the country would be consolidated into nine regional offices. North Carolina would be served by a center in Lexington, Ky., under the proposal.

I believe the closure of this office would be a huge loss to our state in terms of the quality and quantity of industry information collected. Right now, we have access to county-by-county statistics on crop and livestock production numbers. If the federal government moves to regional offices, only state data will be collected, and that is only if North Carolina ranks high enough in a particular commodity.

Our department's relation-ship with NASS dates back to 1919, and through this partnership we have been able to provide reliable and essential information to North Carolina's agricultural community. In addition, field staff have also been responsible for several special surveys that are conducted each year. The information collected and compiled helps us better tell the story of agriculture's significant contributions to the state's economy.

I have been in contact with Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan about this issue, and I hope we will be able to keep a field office here.

Also on our federal radar this year are overall agricultural approp-riations, the implemen-tation of the farm bill, a number of proposed bills regarding farm labor and immigration rules, the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, several Environmental Protection Agency proposals that could impact agriculture, issues regarding crop insurance rules for fresh markets and apples, and a request for federal assistance for poultry producers affected by the closing of processing companies.

You can see there are a lot of hot-button issues at play this year. I have been to several commodity meetings this year, and already I am hearing about the potential for labor shortages for farms. It is a major concern of producers and, quite honestly, the current program for foreign workers is not effective for farmers.

Our growers must have access to an affordable and reliable labor supply or we may find ourselves like other states, whose farmers have had to watch fruit and vegetables rot in the fields because they cannot find workers willing or able to harvest crops. This is a national issue and if there is no federal action to fix foreign worker programs, we could all see the price of food continue to rise.

During the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, agriculture commissioners adopted several principles with regards to reforming the guest worker program.
North Carolina apple producers have brought to my attention changes in the federal crop insurance program with regards to fresh market apples.

Because of unique weather conditions in N.C., many of the farmers would be locked out of the market for fresh market apple insurance – a product that was supposed to help farmers in the event of a disaster.
I have just touched on a few of the many bills and issues that we will be watching closely in Congress this year. I want to be sure our farmers voices and concerns are heard and understood. I hope to talk with growers more during my visits with commodity groups during the first quarter of the year .

NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Andrea Ashby, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3001; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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