Year in Review: State’s top industry holding on despite threats

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(The Center Square) – Agriculture, North Carolina’s No. 1 industry forever, grew in economic impact 11% and topped $100 billion.

In his May announcement, state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the milestone “is a big accomplishment for everyone in agriculture and agribusiness and proves how much we can accomplish when we are all pulling together.”

The feat was the most notable of the 2023 impact stories for the industry, which continues to face challenges far beyond what the weather brings from season to season.

Still No. 1

While other industries have come to the state and thrived, ranging from banking to research to alternative fuel vehicles, agriculture remains king. It employs one-fifth of the state’s workforce, and new numbers from respected N.C. State University economist Mike Walden says the economic impact rose to $103.2 billion from the previous year’s $92.9 billion.

While it’s a staggering 75% increase since 2005, looming ahead is the projected loss of farmland. Nearly 7,000 acres alone were earmarked for an electric vehicle manufacturing plant; a battery plant for electric vehicles; and a site encompassing multi-use condominiums, townhomes and apartments.

Solar developments could take away another 45,000 acres.

Unionization threat

Changes proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor for temporary workers in the H-2A program also threaten farms, particularly the smaller ones.

Congressmen and state attorneys general are on record against “unionization protections” and placing “the interests of foreign nationals over the interests of United States citizens.”

Poultry

Farmers helping the state achieve national rankings of second in turkeys and fourth in broilers are handling the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dealer disclosure document on pay for growers, flock losses, food shortages and complaints from farmers about food provided.

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said in a statement, “This is the latest example of Bidenomics pushing increased regulations, red tape and costs onto businesses causing record inflation and input costs, and threatening food security and potentially raising grocery bills even further for Americans.”

The changes are aimed at addressing complaints from farmers who raise birds for large processing companies that the agreements can lead to less-than-anticipated profits and debt from facility upgrades.

The proposed rule, which exempts dealers that slaughter less than 2 million pounds of live broilers weekly or 104 pounds annually, is set to take effect 75 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, which will likely be in late January.

Litigation

There was good news for farmers on the regulation front, and that coming in a November ruling at the state Court of Appeals.

Lagoon and sprayfield systems are quite common for thousands of poultry, hog and cattle farms. Three animal-waste General Permit conditions from the Department of Environmental Quality were ruled invalid because they did not come through the Administrative Procedure Act’s rule-making process.

The Farm Bureau Legal Foundation said it litigated because it believed DEQ “developed the permits after agreeing to a legal settlement with nonprofit groups that oppose the permits.”

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