SPW Editor and Publisher Chip Carter and Video Producer Jenni Kight recently caught up with North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Steve Troxler, in his fourth term and himself a lifelong farmer, for a conversation about labor, the new administration and agriculture, the future of NC ag, and how the state overcame the loss of tobacco as a dominant crop and introduced new crops that have thrived mightily, like sweet potatoes.
The conversation went on for nearly an hour – we’ve distilled it to the best five minutes here. But if you’d like to see the whole piece, click here for the full video!
Meanwhile, we present some excerpts from the conversation below:
On the loss of tobacco as the state’s top crop:
“We found out that sweet potatoes like to grow in the same dirt that tobacco did so we’re number 1 in the nation in production of sweet potatoes. When burley tobacco declined in the mountains we discovered it was an excellent place to grow Fraser fir Christmas trees so now we’re number 2 in the nation in Christmas trees. So we took advantage of what was a disadvantage and we moved forward and we’re much stronger for that diversification. And believe it or not, tobacco is still the leading cash crop that we have in North Carolina. It’s quiet, it’s not like it used to be but tobacco is still very important and generates about $700 million a year.”
On the next wave of NC agriculture:
“I think the next big thing for us is going to be growing more specialty crops here in North Carolina. We already grow a lot of blueberries, a lot of strawberries and we ranked in the top 5 in both of those in the country. But there’s demand for so many other specialty crops. We’re perfectly capable of doing that and I see us moving into growing more specialty crops.”
“The labor situation can be fixed but it takes political will to do it. I am a little bit encouraged now after a visit to the White House that the administration understands more than what they would let on about the labor problems that we have in the United States when it comes to agriculture. I just hope we’ll go ahead and do it and don’t wait until it’s too late and we’ve got all these crops rotting in the fields and we don’t have any labor to pick the crop.”
On new USDA chief Sonny Perdue:
After having time to sit down with him in Washington and talk to him I understand the knowledge that he does have about agriculture. And he’s a very smart political guy on top of that and you’ve got to be if you’re going to be in that position. So I think he’s got the attributes to be a really, really good Secretary of Agriculture. And we think at the state level that we’re going to have plenty of access to the US Department of Agriculture so we’re excited about that and ready to help do anything we can do to make him the best secretary we’ve ever seen. I think in the Southeast right now we’re sitting in the catbird seat and I think maybe some of our colleagues from the Midwest are not too happy about the situation. But I think we’re going to be able to talk to and to get ideas to the administration.”