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North Carolina agriculture reaches record economic impactNorth Carolina agriculture reaches record economic impact

When North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler took office in 2005, the economic impact of agriculture and agribusiness was $59 billion. Agriculture’s impact is much higher now.

John Hart

May 30, 2023

5 Min Read
Shawn Harding Garey Fox Sandy Stewart
On hand for a news conference May 19 at the Tobacco Pavilion at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh announcing that North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness has reached a record $103.2 billion in economic value are Assistant North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Sandy Stewart; incoming North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Garey Fox; and North Carolina Farm Bureau President Shawn Harding.John Hart

At a Glance

  • Agriculture remains North Carolina’s number one industry, employing about one-fifth of the state’s workforce.

North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness has officially surpassed the $100 billion mark in economic value, reaching a new record of $103.2 billion, according to the latest numbers based on 2021 U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

The $103.2 figure comes from USDA statistics analyzed by North Carolina State University Economist and Professor Emeritus Mike Walden and reflects the economic value of growing, processing, and delivering food, natural fiber, and forestry products. The latest figures were highlighted by Assistant North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Sandy Stewart in a May 19 news conference at the Tobacco Pavilion at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

Stewart was filling in at the news conference for North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler who had to cancel his planned appearance at the last minute due to a family situation. Stewart said Troxler knew people would understand because Troxler has always emphasized that family comes first.

Setting and reaching goals

Stewart noted that when Troxler took office as agriculture commissioner in 2005, the economic impact of agriculture and agribusiness was $59 billion and Troxler believed that reaching $100 billion seemed like a good goal to work toward. In 2016, Troxler made the prediction that North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness would soon reach $100 billion.

Related:North Carolina takes a focused approach to new, emerging crops

“It took a little bit longer that we thought to make that goal. In fact, last year’s economic impact dropped just a little bit to $92.9 billion which was just a little bit disappointing. But I’m proud to say that agriculture and agribusiness in North Carolina have come roaring back,” Stewart said at the news conference.

“We did it. The farmers in North Carolina did it. The researchers did it. The general assembly did it. Ag business development did it. Farm Bureau, the Grange, all of our commodity groups did it. We did it together. That number represents the economic value of growing, processing, and delivering food, natural fiber and forestry products to North Carolinians and really to the world beyond. Today’s number is based off of 2021 USDA statistics. Those are the latest we have available. I’m pretty sure that 2022 was a better year. So next year we’re going to see that number climb even more,” Stewart said.

Not the time to rest

Agriculture remains North Carolina’s number one industry, employing about one-fifth of the state’s workforce. Stewart said agriculture and agribusiness is the economic engine that drives rural North Carolina and the entire state.

“It’s now time to set a new goal to keep agriculture and agribusiness operations moving forward in our state. We have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of mouths to feed. And you know Steve Troxler says that hungry people are mean people, and we’ve got to keep people fed in North Carolina and across the world,” he said.

“Just as importantly, agriculture feeds the world. As our population continues to grow globally there will be even more pressure on farmers to produce more food from fewer resources. And as much as the commissioner has championed reaching this $100 billion-plus mark of economic impact, farmland preservation also remains our highest priority. Last year we crossed the mark of preserving 30,000 acres plus of farmland in North Carolina from development through our farmland conservation programs,” Stewart said.

Stewart said now is not the time to rest.

“We got to remain focused on what we’re doing now and remain focused on the work ahead. We know that farmers worldwide will need to produce 75% more food by 2050 in order to feed the world’s population. That’s a big challenge, but one that our farmers are working on today and will be working on in the future. One that our universities, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, are working on,” he said.

Continuing to grow and evolve

Garey Fox, the incoming dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State, pointed to USDA Economic Research data that shows over the past 80 years, agriculture has operated with little growth in the number of inputs used, such as land, machinery and fertilizer.

“But when you look at net productivity, the net productivity of agriculture is basically 2.5 times what it was 60, 70, 80 years ago with no additional inputs. The way that we’ve been able to do that is because of these very strong partnerships and because of the fact that we have really invested in creating new approaches, creating new technologies, creating new tools that our farmers and our ranchers, and our ag community can use throughout the United States,” Fox said.

“What we will do moving forward in the college is to absolutely make sure that we are addressing and creating and innovating to make sure we’re creating those partnerships so that we can continue to increase that productivity,” the incoming dean said.

North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation President Shawn Harding said the $103.2 billion figure shows that the North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness continue to grow, and he said that growth must continue.

Harding said as a farmer from eastern North Carolina, his story is the story of North Carolina in many ways. He said his family grew tobacco for many years, but when tobacco went through the buyout, they got out of tobacco and switched to other crops. He said because of the tobacco buyout, North Carolina had to transition its ag economy.

“We’ve done that thanks the support and the working together of the whole ag community. Certainly, tobacco is still important to North Carolina, but we’ve got a hundred other commodities that have sprung up in this state that are just doing fantastic,” Harding said.

“It all goes back to our resilient tremendous, farmers in this state who say, ‘you know what, I’m going to figure it out; I’m going to do something different. I’m going to figure out how to stay on the farm and how to keep growing this industry.”

Read more about:

Farm EconomyEconomy

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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