Opinion

Remembering our agricultural roots

Male plants carry pollen sacks which, if they pollinate a whole field, could cost the farmer hundreds of thousands of dollars. (CJ photo by Brooke Conra)
Male plants carry pollen sacks which, if they pollinate a whole field, could cost the farmer hundreds of thousands of dollars. (CJ photo by Brooke Conra)

Nearly half a million North Carolinians work in food processing plants. These workers rely on this sector to put food on their table, pay their mortgages, and secure a better future for their families; and these opportunities, along with the economic success of the state, are coming under fire as the Biden administration plans to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. This plan claims it will “prioritize American workers,” but those that work factories and factory farms will be hit the hardest by this policy shift.

The Tar Heel state boasted a GDP of approximately $566 billion in 2018. That’s the 11th largest state economy in America. If the state were a sovereign nation, it would rank 22nd globally in terms of GDP. With Charlotte becoming the financial hub of the south and RTP luring in a multitude of firms has certainly contributed to the state’s success, the heart of the economy remains in agriculture and food processing. Nearly one-fifth of the state’s GDP was a result of manufacturing, and food processing plants dominate this number.

Almost 1 in 10 people in the state’s workforce are employed by this sector since firms like Butterball, Smithfield, and Tyson have set up shop here. North Carolina is home to the second-largest network of livestock processing plants in the nation. According to the USDA, farmers within this state had nine million hogs, thirty million turkeys, and 961,300,000 chickens in 2020. All eyes might be on the state every four years when elections roll around, but we play a vital role when it comes to food security in America. Grilling hot dogs on the Fourth of July, buffalo wings for Super Bowl Sunday, Thanksgiving dinners, or even family meals in any given household across the nation would not be possible without the people of North Carolina going to work every morning.

In the last 25 years, North Carolina has received a combined $7.67 billion in federal agricultural subsidies. Subsidies can help keep domestic producers competitive in international markets but are funded by an unnecessary tax burden imposed on the people. In 2010, the state received nearly $300 million from the federal government, and this figure was reduced to $185 million by 2020. This is because increased innovation within the sector has led to more efficient farming and processing methods which, in turn, reduced the need for massive subsidies. We must continue to foster development and innovation in this sector so North Carolinian agriculture can remain competitive in both national and international markets.

The 2018 Farm Bill allocated less than a quarter of its budget to things like crop insurance programs, conservation efforts, and research. This is concerning because these programs are crucial to North Carolina’s agricultural success. Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa and Obama’s Agriculture Secretary, has been brought back in by the new administration. The Biden administration is still in its infancy, so it is hard to gauge what their policies will be from an agricultural standpoint. However, it’s clear that this sector of the economy is not a priority, as the president tours Europe while American workers struggle to recover from the pandemic. While the claims that President Biden plans to limit the amount of meat we can consume, or ban it altogether, were false, the underlying concerns are not unfounded.

Factory farms are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in this country, but they are also an economic boon. The people of North Carolina cannot wait for the federal government to dictate which parts of the state’s economy can thrive and which ones must suffer. There is no denying that the nation needs to switch to a more diverse, reliable energy portfolio. The Colonial pipeline debacle is a perfect example of why. However, this shift must be done in a way in which we ensure that more good is done than harm. Our local and state officials need to develop long-term plans that will preserve the livelihoods of their constituents, along with the economic success of North Carolina. Coach K and Roy Williams may have brought national attention to the Old North State, but our importance to this country is far greater than March Madness. The people of North Carolina have played a vital role in the development of this nation, and ought to continue by being at the forefront of its future.

Carter Reilly is an intern at the John Locke Foundation and a student at Loyola University Maryland.