By Ashley Robinson
North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler praised the state’s agricultural sector for its continued prosperity during the COVID-19 pandemic during his annual State of Agriculture Address.
“I am proud of the work that we’ve done to grow agriculture markets, preserve our farmland, protect our food supply and help position the next generation for success,” said Troxler during the address on Feb. 24, streamed on Facebook by the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “I’ve never been more proud of our industry or our farmers.
“I’m proud to say that agriculture and agribusiness continue to rep the state’s No. 1 industry at $92.7 billion,” Troxler said. “I believe we’re on the cusp of becoming a $100 billion industry in terms of economic impact.”
Troxler reports that both pork and poultry exports to China were up 20% in 2020. He also reports that exports of prepared foods have increased from $45 million to more than $400 million over the last 10 years.
North Carolina’s tobacco market has also seen a major turn-around with China coming back into play, purchasing U.S. flue-cured tobacco again. In 2021, contracted pounds are expected to return to over 300 million pounds.
North Carolina’s agriculture industry accounts for approximately 20% of the state’s workforce, which has pushed safety precautions to the top of the Department of Agriculture’s agenda.
“We’re continuing to work on vaccines timetables and when they are rolled out we are in regular communication with state health officials advocate acting for priority status for Ag workers. We continue to advocate for the need to protect these essential first line workers,” Troxler said.
Troxler was joined by Blake Brown, N.C. State University economist, who provided an agricultural economic outlook for the state.
According to Brown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts a decrease in U.S. farm income for 2021. But he predicts North Carolina producers may see an increase this year.
“Despite lower U.S. farm payments, we’re probably going to see our income go up in 2021 because of the improvements that we’re going to see in the animal and poultry industry and because of the improvement that the commissioner mentioned with our tobacco pounds,” Brown said.
Brown also reports strong exports opportunities for pork, poultry, soybeans and corn for 2021, favorable for many North Carolina producers.