For Rowan County farmers, next farm bill should be 'bold'

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“Think boldly”, Rowan County farmers and producers!  At least that’s the approach you’ll want to take when the next Farm Bill is written.
As a general rule, Farm Bills are 5 years in length.  A new Farm Bill is scheduled to begin October 2012, covering FY 2013 through September 2017.  So as the U.S. Congress writes the next Farm Bill, I suggest these major components boldly be at the center.    

International opportunities should be created for Rowan County farmers and growers selling to expanded markets.  Wouldn’t it be exciting to see Italian, Kenyan, or Brazilian supermarkets displaying signs reading “Product of Rowan County, USA?”  And selling Rowan County agricultural goods abroad will contribute to record agricultural exports, and to more than 1 million American jobs this year.    Of course, as we expand worldwide opportunities, we should continue supporting producers interested in additional local and regional markets.  

In addition, a safety net mechanism must be included to provide Rowan County producers swift assistance if they lose crops or livestock to a natural disaster.  This safety apparatus should reflect diversity of American agriculture, and must work for all farmers.  It should be a simple, understandable plain language approach, one that is accountable and justifiable to all Americans.  (The safety net is particularly important for beginning farmers.)  

As North Carolina’s population ages, this Farm Bill should identify, recruit, train and support a new generation of Rowan County farmers.  Careers in agriculture should be presented with the same distinction, honor and prestige as those for doctors and lawyers.  Agriculture is a national security matter.  Imagine the results should we ever experience a food shortage.  Expanding the agriculture talent pool is a priority.  (USDA Farm Service Agency already provides incentives for young and beginning farmers to begin an operation.)   

Finally, the new Farm Bill should improve rural development programs.  For the federal government to be the best possible partner for Rowan County citizens and businesses, easier access to USDA support is crucial.  These programs will help ensure that emerging rural businesses have the capital needed to grow and create local jobs.  

What are the benefits of a strong Farm Bill to Rowan County?   Productive soil and a plentiful water supply are gained.  Local jobs are created!  Schools are funded!   And money is contributed to charities and into church collection plates.   As long as the strength of North Carolina continues to come from agriculture, a bold Farm Bill is essential.  There’s an Old Testament scripture “Be strong, courageous, and not afraid!” Just as that’s always been the attitude of Rowan County farmers and producers, it will need to be the perspective of the next Farm Bill.
Aaron Martin is the State Executive Director of USDA Farm Service Agency North Carolina.