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North Carolina Agriculture – Where Is the Vision for 2040?

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Agriculture, Economy, Future Planning, North Carolina | 0 comments

Food production is not just nice to have – it’s essential. As the disruption of food shipment from Ukraine has shown, it’s somewhere between nice and essential to have it close to home. So, how is North Carolina doing on producing food in the present? What is the vision for our food production in the 2040s when the next generation become adults?

North Carolina’s agriculture sector is doing OK today

North Carolina’s agriculture sector seems to be holding its own. The state is ranked 9th in population and 9th for the gross receipts of its farms and it has a nice diversity of products. NC produces lumber, soybeans and corn in addition to its major production of chickens, turkeys, and hogs.

The issues on the horizon seem manageable. Farm acreage has been stable but is undergoing a slow consolidation of farms. Despite the consolidation, their average size around 200 acres is still half the U.S. average. There is worry about young people having the opportunity to be farm owners and operators, but the average full time farm operator in NC is in their forties. There should not be a crisis of farm management in the near term.

So, why worry about the 2040s?

My brief study of farming in NC did not worry me that there will be a shortfall of food production when our kids become adults — despite climate change and generational succession. By 2040, North Carolina may have the climate of Georgia, but those both have strong agricultural economies. Farming practices and crops may change, but production will continue.

There may be fewer kids interested in operating farms, but with the continued consolidation of farms, not as many will be needed. The real bottleneck may be farm labor, which immigration policy and mechanization can address.

What does bother me

What I could not find in my search was a vision about the future of farming in North Carolina. The materials I consulted focus on historic trends, present news, and the near future. As far as I can tell, few are thinking about the opportunities we could create for better farming in the next couple decades. I have not been able to find any organizations that are thinking that far ahead or publishing well researched reports on desirable directions for North Carolina’s food system. Please correct me if I have missed something!

If we were thinking ahead, we would be planning how to scale up best practices to improve on farming’s environmental issues. North Carolina farming continues to create erosion of topsoil; water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides; air pollution from ammonia, dust and fuels; and the reduction of wildlife habitat. Practices have been developed to address all of these issues, but they have not been implemented at scale.

If we were thinking ahead, we would be helping our farmers adapt to the advances in food technology. Our great food science university – North Carolina State — would be holding seminars on alternative proteins, the process of creating meat substitutes, and new fermentation processes. Will North Carolina still be slaughtering hogs in 2040 while its competitors are putting out tasty meat substitutes at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact?

The bottom line

North Carolina’s agriculture is doing OK today in the production of food. If we could pull together a broad-based effort of universities, departments of agriculture, legislative committees, and farmers we could create the knowledge, infrastructure, and incentives that would lead to a better food system for the 2040s. Let’s do it.

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