Blessed are the hands: ‘Still room for the little guy,’ speaker says at monthly breakfast celebrating local farming
Published 12:05 am Sunday, March 19, 2023
SALISBURY — In a state where the No. 1 economic driver is agriculture, Rowan County is powering ahead, ranking in the top 10 in cattle, dairy and wheat production.
A special guest from the North Carolina Farm Bureau joined the Power in Partnership program’s annual “Salute to Agri-business” breakfast at the West End Plaza to discuss how farmers stay afloat in an ever-changing landscape.
Jake Parker is a North Carolina Farm Bureau Secretary and General Counsel and on Thursday, he was the annual event’s keynote speaker.
The N.C. Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general farm advocacy organization. Formed in 1936 as a nonprofit, the bureau serves farmers and provides a unified voice for the interests and needs of the farming community.
Parker explained that those needs are changing as conventional farming families give way to economies of scale that are more capable of weathering market volatility. He is optimistic about the future of farming, even if it comes with some challenges.
“There is still room for the little guy,” Parker said. “At N.C. Farm Bureau, we represent farmers of all types all over the state. There are going to be larger producers. They are going to generate the most food and fiber anyway, but there are places for smaller farmers, and they certainly have a role, especially in a community like this, in farmer’s markets and other places. If they can find a good market for their products, they can be really successful.”
One of the challenges facing farmers today, which is especially burdensome on the little guy, is land acquisition. Developers are buying up land left and right to construct homes and commercial space, limiting the availability of land and increasing the opportunity costs associated with it.
“If you can sell your land for development and retire, that is a good incentive, but it takes farmland out of production,” Parker said. “I think the issue is acquiring land, getting the capital necessary and getting started.”
Parker indicated that farming is typically maintained within a family construct since 96 percent of NC farms (44,509) fall under this category.
“The vast majority of our farms are family farms,” Parker said. “They usually think about handing them down to family members. What if there are no family members? Who do they find in the community they can trust to step in and keep those farms going? It’s a real challenge.”
In North Carolina, the average age of a farmer is 58 years old. That is not a new phenomenon. As Parker pointed out, that number has been high for a long time, but it still begs the question.
“It’s a real challenge for us to figure out where the new generation of farmers is coming from,” Parker said. “We have them. They are out there. The real difficulty is them acquiring land and equipment, and the capital needs to get started.”
During his speech on Thursday, Parker discussed how rethinking and retooling farms could make them profitable. One example he provided was through the emerging industry of agri-tourism. The US Department of Agriculture’s website describes agri-tourism as a commercial enterprise linking agricultural production or processing with tourism to attract visitors to a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business to entertain or educate the visitors while generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.
In a state where more than one-quarter of the land is used for farming, Parker indicated that protecting the rights and interests of those farmers is crucial for the future. After all, it’s the one industry that nourishes the earth.
Other PIP speakers include top North Carolina elected officials and business leaders. The rest of the PIP season dates are April 20 and May 18.
The PIP season will take a break for summer and resume in September.
The Chamber’s breakfast programs average over 120 attendees each month. Sponsors will have exclusive marketing rights to the banquet room and provide a five-minute sponsor profile on their company.
Partner agencies will share updates with the local business leaders and address issues of concern for the entire region.
For more event information, visit rowanchamber.com.