Tuesday, March 13, 2018 Stepping Up for Agriculture

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Spring 2018 issue of NC Field and Family.

Farm Bureau takes a stand on important issues

For more than 80 years, our Farm Bureau brand has served as a trusted voice on issues impacting the agriculture community. We must remain vigilant concerning the issues and challenges ahead of us in 2018.

Legislatively, we have a strong working relationship with the North Carolina General Assembly and the Governor’s office. We might not always agree on every issue, but I can tell you, they always want to hear from us. The same is true for our U.S. congressional members. We have great relationships with all 13 congressional offices and our 2 senatorial offices. This is a testimony to the strength of this organization and our grassroots leadership.

As the largest and most influential voice for rural North Carolina, we must not be afraid to take big, bold, and active stands on the controversial issues impacting our members. We must be prepared to stand alone if necessary. Our membership and the agriculture community expect Farm Bureau to do what is in the best interests of our farmers, regardless of the consequences.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 Principles For Progress

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of NC Field and Family.

Mergers showcase the need for competitive choice

Progress has been a guiding principle of farming since before North Carolina’s first Commissioner of Agriculture Leonidas L. Polk established Progressive Farmer magazine in 1887, after serving in office.

With each new season of the year, it seems there is also a huge new merger or acquisition being announced in the name of progress. With the dizzying pace of consolidation in agribusiness, it seems appropriate to consider both sides of this double-edged sword. Is consolidation beneficial to farmers and consumers? Or do these legal strategies lessen competition to the point where too many options vanish?

According to industry analysts, these deals may result in increased efficiencies, crop yields and time savings, so we’re typically told this merger or that acquisition is ultimately for the benefit of farmers and consumers. Yet, is consolidation the only way, and the best way, to achieve progress?

What makes our economy prosperous? Is the answer independent, strong small businesses? Or, is it the consolidation of large corporations? Like most things in life, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Ideally, we’d like everyone to be prosperous. But one thing is certain: Farmers and consumers need choice!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 The Importance of Infrastructure

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Fall 2017 issue of NC Field and Family.

Initiatives for rural transportation, energy and broadband internet will benefit the state economy

North Carolina’s rural transportation, energy and broadband internet infrastructures are as important to economic development as seed, sun and water are to crops. Economic development is vital for the future of our farmers, rural communities and the population of the entire state.

There is no single “cure-all” for the ailing economies of many rural counties, but these areas have the potential to contribute an additional 38,000 jobs and $10.3 billion to the state’s annual income over a decade, according to a 2014 study commissioned by the NC General Assembly.

Because of this potential, the North Carolina Food Manufacturing Task Force was established April 9, 2015. The Task Force seeks to boost the rural economy with a world-class food processing industry.

The quality of roads and bridges tops the list of infrastructure needs that have a direct impact on the economic viability and quality of life in our rural communities. TRIP, a national transportation research group, recently reported, “North Carolina’s rural roads have high rates of fatalities, bridges show deficiencies; the state’s rural transportation system is in need of modernization to better support economic growth and connectivity.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report stated that 10 percent of all Americans lack access to high-speed broadband service, while 39 percent of rural Americans lack access. By contrast, only 4 percent of urban Americans lack access.

Affordable electricity and access to natural gas are also crucial for economic development. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide natural gas to the rural utilities that need it to serve their communities, and is estimated to lower energy costs for consumers and businesses while contributing an estimated $28 million in annual property taxes to local governments.

Agriculture is a crucial component of future economic development in rural North Carolina through the creation of value-added processing jobs and economically symbiotic small business.

Diverse agriculture, combined with an improved infrastructure, can result in the state emerging as a global food leader. State and federal funding, along with private investment, is required to make infrastructure investments that ensure our rural communities have roads that are well-maintained, energy that is affordable and broadband internet that is accessible.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 The Importance of Agriculture

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Summer 2017 issue of NC Field and Family.

New task force promotes agriculture and rural prosperity

At North Carolina Farm Bureau, we advocate for farmers in the halls of Congress and the offices of the N.C. General Assembly, but we’re nonpartisan. Our focus is with our family farmers and their rural neighbors. They established this organization, and it belongs to them.

On April 25, President Donald J. Trump did something good for farmers and agriculture. He issued an executive order entitled “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America.” Much of it reads like a battle plan farmers might use if storming their enemies’ furrows.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 No Rocket Scientists Needed

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten.

Immigration reform has been discussed, debated and argued for years, but eventually concludes with the same tired result – “next year is the year!”  To be blunt, fixing our worn-out immigration system does not require a rocket scientist. And this year needs to be the year.

What’s Going on with the Ag Workforce?

The short answer is, it’s changing. When I was still actively farming during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, most of our farm workers were American citizens. But during the 90s that began to change, and farmers had to react to the change in their labor pool. What was happening over this time is American workers were taking other types of jobs for a number of reasons, but partly because people were becoming more educated and partly because of urbanization. Still needing workers, farmers began hiring more foreign-born workers because they were willing to do the job, and do it well.

Figure 1: In the 1970s, only 2.7 percent of male farmers and farm laborers and 3.8 percent of female farmers and farm laborers were born abroad. Those numbers began to grow considerably during the 1990s, and by 2012 the percentages had ballooned to 26.9 percent.

Another trend farmers have been riding is mechanization. As farm workers have become more difficult to find, many farmers have looked to technology to help them get the job done. And for many farmers, technological advances have been a huge help in addressing workforce shortages.

The problem is that farmers aren’t magicians – eventually they reach a breaking point. And if we aren’t there yet, we’re getting close.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 Health Insurance Cost Crisis

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Spring 2017 issue of NC Field and Family.

Quality, affordable and transparent healthcare system needed

America’s healthcare system is in need of intensive care, and it will take the best efforts of Congress and the new administration to save the nation’s sickest patient: the health insurance system.

The future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is on the minds of most Americans. Farm Bureau members in every county, and in each income level, are impacted by our nation’s dysfunctional healthcare system. While based on good intentions, the Affordable Care Act does not work for all Americans. We’re looking to Congress to fix this law.

The current healthcare system provides little competition or checks and balances for runaway prices. In 2016, annual premiums for an average family reached $18,142, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. The average price increase for 2017 was 25 percent. At best, this system is unsustainable.