North Carolina hit a major milestone when N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler announced that our state’s agriculture industry hit over $100 billion in economic activity for the first time, $103.2 billion, to be exact. While this is worth celebrating, the conversation should recognize that every dollar represents an impact on an everyday North Carolinian. Figuring out how we sustain and advance this growth is about continuing to nurture a sector of our economy that allows them to flourish.

What that $103.2 billion looks like 

This $103.2 billion looks like one in six of your friends and family contributing to our state’s agriculture. This $103.2 billion looks like the technician fixing the downed tractor on the road, a mom and dad taking the kids to pick strawberries on a Saturday afternoon, the fifth-generation student getting an agribusiness degree to go back to their family farm, or even my classmate trying something new in the industry by working on an app in my university’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship program.  

Those $103.2 billion do include the farmers in our state, but when 99% of people in N.C. don’t work daily on the farm, that $103.2 billion also includes those who support the hard-working farmers laboring in the fields or on the shores. Those $103.2 billion are working to do more with less and have contributed to our state’s economy through their own entrepreneurial spirit.

North Carolina’s entrepreneurship in agriculture defined

While most people associate the term entrepreneurship with big business moguls or stories of college dropouts making it big in the tech industry, at its core, entrepreneurship is the practice of innovating and creating additional value in the market. For North Carolina’s agriculture, this has become a necessity to meet consumer demand and remain viable. For those one in six employed in our state’s agribusiness and agriculture, entrepreneurship has become the norm.

That $103.2 billion figure tells the story of each entrepreneur finding new ways to better our food supply chain or build up their business in the fields or elsewhere. It’s no coincidence that North Carolina has enjoyed a growing economy. Those in the industry are finding new solutions and methods to bring in revenue and become more efficient. They do all this in the face of contradictory government statutes, a slowdown caused by overbearing COVID-era policies, and the consequences of inflation brought on by runaway government spending.

The tenacity of NC agriculture’s entrepreneurial spirit

Despite these external pressures, N.C. agriculture’s entrepreneurial spirit continues to grow both on and off the farm. The growth of value-added practices such as agritourism, farms taking up some direct processing and retailing activities like jamming or creating jerky, or even finding new ways to grow and process oysters are just snapshots of how entrepreneurship is contributing to the growth of North Carolina’s premier industry.

The strength of North Carolina’s agriculture and agribusiness is a tale of the entrepreneur succeeding as the market and laws shift under their feet. For those that farm, the answer to their survival may be agritourism; to those that work the supply chain of our food, the solution might be found in more efficient technologies. Regardless, the efforts made by those in agriculture and agribusiness to add value to their production capabilities have resulted in the milestone we celebrate today.

The story of agriculture in North Carolina is that of entrepreneurship

When looking at ways to nurture the sector of our economy responsible for feeding our families, the answer is found in how to better the station of the agricultural entrepreneur moving forward. This, first and foremost, means that such support ought to consider the following principles to better each individual operating within this industry.

1) Lessen the confusion and contradictions found in government regulations at the city, county, and state level

2) Eliminate policies advocating direct planning that stifle individual innovation

3) Quicken the rate of bringing and testing new ideas and products to the market

Following these principles will allow our entrepreneurs in the agricultural space to grow the economy naturally and freely as we navigate a future with fewer resources and increasing demand. Nurturing our state’s premier industry means to recognize that entrepreneurship often takes the form of an idea crafted and brought to action by an individual, not an authoritarian hand of the government. And for those contributing to our state’s agricultural output, entrepreneurship has become a definable characteristic that begins with the individual working in the field, processing plant, manufacturing firm, or marketing office.

Let’s continue bolstering the state’s No. 1 sector of industry by empowering the very North Carolinians responsible to innovate and experiment further as the market demands.