Don’t Forget the Basics
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I write this article as we celebrate National Ag Day (March 22) in the United States. I think about how life in America used to be, and where we are today. Just over 100 years ago, 48 percent of America was considered rural. A time when there was a little more appreciation for the basic essentials of life that the land provides. Basic food, shelter, and clothes. Now, with less than 20 percent of our nation considered rural and huge economic growth, many would say our basic necessities in life are oftentimes taken for granted. Some even see agriculture as a mere stumbling block to greater economic success.
The American Farmland Trust has identified North Carolina as the second-most-threatened state for development of farmland. This is evidenced by North Carolina ranking fourth in the nation for growth for the last 15 consecutive years. From 2001-2016, North Carolina lost 731,600 acres of farmland to urban development. Agriculture is our state’s largest industry, contributing $95.9 billion to the state’s economy and accounting for 17 percent of jobs. So, what is the big deal? Here is some food for thought.
North Carolina generates over two-thirds of its farm cash receipts from livestock and poultry. On the national scale, North Carolina ranks second in the production of pigs and turkeys, fourth in broilers, and sixth in eggs. As a grain deficit state, roughly 150 million bushels of animal feed must be brought in from other states and other parts of the world to meet the demand for our animal agriculture needs. This number will only increase in the future as the poultry industry expands. Approximately 50 percent of grain used in animal agriculture is grown in the state. However, as farmland disappears, so does the amount of feed available for our animals. This can result in increased input costs as the freight to import grain has continued to increase every year. One must ask, could the loss of farmland in North Carolina contribute to the departure of some important players in the market and jeopardize our North Carolina economy?
It will be important for North Carolinians to keep viable markets for our agricultural products so producers remain profitable and resilient. Rural landowners will play a major role in this outcome as well. The hard truth is, most farmers don’t own the majority of the land they work and are heavily dependent on land that is available for rent. We have some of the best farmers in the area, but I may be a little biased. One thing is for sure, no matter how good they are or how much technology they invest in, without land, they can’t do what they do best.
It will also be beneficial to keep our forested lands in production to help mitigate climate changes and support vital ecosystems. On a grander scale, we must maintain access to farmland so farmers can keep producing food domestically to reduce deforestation in other competing countries, much like is happening in Brazil. There has been a lot of discussion about energy independency in the last few months with all the geopolitical pressures causing steady price increases. Should we not have the same concerns about our food independency? I’ll let you decide.
I hope we continue to recognize the value and basic essentials agriculture provides beyond just one day of the year. The pandemic has brought heightened awareness to the vulnerability and inequality of our food system and supply chain. There is more work to be done to feed a growing population, and it will take the 98 percent of the U.S. population who are not involved in production agriculture to help meet these challenges in the future. Let’s work together and not lose focus to our basic needs in life.
For more information contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crop Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/.