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Keeping North Carolina agriculture No. 1 with a plan

Amid continuing state population growth, keeping agriculture the top industry is a challenge, but North Carolina Ag Leads is helping with strategic planning.

John Hart, Associate Editor

May 28, 2024

3 Min Read
Farm near Appalachian Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina
WendyOlsenPhotography/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Folks involved in North Carolina agriculture are rightfully proud that they work in the Tar Heel State’s largest industry. The challenge is, they want to keep agriculture number one and see it further grow and prosper in a state experiencing unprecedented population growth.  

Therein lies the creation of NC Ag Leads, a new strategic planning initiative launched in November and sponsored by Golden LEAF Foundation. The program is set to position the state’s number one economic driver for continued success. Organizers agree this is a daunting task. 

Phase one focuses on researching and discerning opportunities, barriers, and alignment within North Carolina’s agriculture industry will culminate at the end of June. Phase two will consist of solving and executing initiatives identified in phase one. Phase two begins in July and concludes in January 2025, where solutions to identified challenges will begin to be implemented. 

The planning phase culminated May 16 to 17 with “war games” at the Friday Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where leaders of North Carolina commodity groups, North Carolina Farm Bureau, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, and others came together and used the games to identify challenges and formulate solutions. 

Top concerns raised were the vital need for farmland preservation as North Carolina continues to lose farmland to development at an alarming pace and the need for focused education to develop the talent pool North Carolina agriculture desperately demands. It was concluded that more vocational agriculture courses were needed at both the high school and community college levels to build that talent pool. 

The latest figures show North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness had an economic impact of $111.1 billion last year, up nearly $8 billion the year before, when the economic value reached a record $103.2 billion, based on 2021 USDA statistics. Folks working in North Carolina agriculture want this upward trajectory to continue and hope NC Ag Leads will help. 

The challenge is North Carolina agriculture will continue to face stiff competition from other industries for both land and talent. The good news is the North Carolina agriculture community is united in their effort to ensure the future vitality and prosperity of an industry they deeply love. They have a track record of successfully working together in achieving a common goal.  

North Carolina agriculture came together to launch of the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative which crystallized into success in April 2022 with the opening of the Plant Sciences Building on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh after 10 years of planning. This public-private partnership included a total of 44 statewide commodity groups that raised $6 million to help launch the initiative. 

I am confident NC Ag Leads will achieve the same success as the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative because the folks who make up North Carolina agriculture are steadfastly dedicated to their industry. The challenge is to get those not involved in agriculture committed to the cause. 

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About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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