North Carolina is ranked number two among the top 12 states with the most threatened agricultural land, bested only by Texas in this race to the bottom, according to American Farmland Trust (AFT).

Recently Steve Troxler, the Commissioner of Agriculture for North Carolina, delivered a “State of Agriculture” address highlighting the threats to the food industry in North Carolina including loss of farmland, and access to roads, water, and energy.

He told the 19th annual Agriculture Development Forum, hosted by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services (CDA&CS), that agriculture accounts for $103.2 billion of the state economy as of last July, making it the largest industry in the state.

“The AG Development Forum is a great opportunity for farmers, members of the agriculture industry, and all North Carolinians to hear an update on our state’s agriculture economy,” Rep. Jennifer Balkcom, R-Henderson, told the Carolina Journal. It’s like our annual check-up to see how we’re doing. We look at what we’ve done well, what we didn’t do so well, and also look at what the future holds for the agriculture industry and agriculture production. This information helps North Carolina’s state and local leaders and individual farmers make better decisions in support of the overall agriculture community,”

“Raleigh is the number two fastest growing city in the whole nation, Charlotte is number six, and North Carolina is, I think, number three in the nation as far as the number of people that are moving here,” Troxler told the group. “So, if you are dependent on natural resources like we are in agriculture, certainly there’s going to be an impact, and we are beginning to really feel that impact in North Carolina.”

Troxler said infrastructure, water and energy supply, and farmland preservation are the big-ticket items that state and local governments will have to addressed for agriculture, and the entire state, to keep up with changes.

roads are needed for agriculture

“If you look at the road construction that we’re doing across North Carolina, we’re still going to be behind,” said Troxler. “It’ ‘s almost a never-ending process, and you can’t build a road overnight, so transportation infrastructure is something that we are going to have to address. Think back to when we started building roads. In the beginning, we built roads primarily to get products from the farm to the markets across the state.”

“Trying to put a tractor or combine on a busy four-lane highway is a suicidal operation, to begin with,” he added.

developing water and energy supply

Water and energy supply is another area that needs improvements to keep up with the growing agriculture industry, said Troxler. At one point between 2007 and 2011, during a drought, Raleigh was down to a 30-day supply of water, he recalled, further pointing out the population of Raleigh has grown since then and continues to grow, but we don’t see any additional reservoirs being built.

Similarly, energy supply growth remains an issue of concern. Commissioner Troxler referenced the deadly outages of Christmas 2022 when rolling blackouts were implemented by Duke Energy power to protect the grid.

“There’s going to have to be some more power created in North Carolina from some source,” he said. “Solar is great technology as a supplement, but you must have a reliable source of electricity. Is it going to be fossil fuel, or the other choice is the package plants that are nuclear? That’s another discussion in and of itself. But we know that agriculture runs off energy, and we do every day. All of these are big ticket items that we, in some way, have to influence lawmakers to keep agriculture at the front of their minds because we are the people that feed everybody.”

Farmland preservation is an essential issue to the future of agriculture in our state, said Troxler, adding that North Carolina has “…robust farmland preservation programming and I think we’ve done a great job. We have protected over 34,000 acres of farmland on the conservation easements.”

“The hot spots for development were around Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville and Winston-Salem,” wrote Lori Sallet, media relations director for the AFT. “However, the threat is more than just urban sprawl. North Carolina’s agricultural land is disproportionately threatened by a new, more insidious kind of development discovered by AFT through this research, termed low-density residential, or LDR, land use.”

According to Troxler, North Carolina currently has around 8.3 million acres of farmland.

“On the low side, they say we probably lose 1.1 million acres of that, and on the high side, maybe more like 1.6 to 1.9 million,” said Troxler. “Now we’re talking about a million acres; that changes the whole perception of North Carolina and changes the vision of North Carolina. So it’s the farm that we’re protecting. Still, a farm is so much more than just what you think of as producing food; it also is an open space; a wildlife habitat; is a place where water percolates into the ground instead of running off and causing flooding. Protecting farmland is paramount to all these issues. For protecting one farm you get just so many different things that are good for North Carolina.”

North Carolina House Rep. Jennifer Balkcom, R-Henderson, and House Deputy Majority Whip John Hardister, R-Guilford attended the forum to meet with state ag leaders.

“Agriculture is the number one industry in North Carolina, but there are challenges facing the industry,” said Hardister. “We need to continue our efforts to support agriculture, with a special focus on workforce development. It is important that the NC General Assembly continue to support farmers, but we also need to encourage more students to consider a career in agriculture. There are many jobs tied to the ag industry, including farm operators, equipment production, and bioengineering. It is important to have forums like this that highlight the importance of agriculture and the impact that the industry has on our economy. ”

“North Carolina’s agriculture production had a monumental year in 2023, surpassing $100 billion for the first time ever,” said Balkcom. “This is fantastic news for our state. However, moving forward we all need to be aware of the possible loss of farmland due to the growing popularity of North Carolina and the number of people moving to our great state. We need to work to preserve farmland wherever it is possible. We are seeing the loss of farmland in Henderson County and all across North Carolina.”