Lt. Gov. Dan Forest strongly believes that agriculture will continue to be the heart and soul of the North Carolina for many years to come.
He made that feeling known in a room full of Sampson County farmers at the Exposition Center.During the 17th Rally for Agriculture hosted by The Sampson County Friends of Agriculture (FOA), Forest expressed how farmers are a small percentage of the population, but they feed millions around the world. In North Carolina, Agriculture is the largest industry, bringing in tens of billions of dollars.
Forest stressed the importance of growing the industry, with assistance of the Food Manufacturing Task Force. One example he used was a $1 can of green beans. The greens beans are only 10 cents, but a manufacture in another state like Ohio will get most of the profit, although the beans are grown in North Carolina.
“There’s 90 cents worth of product that we’re leaving on the table because we don’t manufacture here in our state,” Forest said.
One of the developments include a project in Kannapolis at the North Carolina Research Campus, where products from companies are tested and sold from the lab. He also spoke about how there’s a possibility that the state will be home to the no. 1 plant science research through a facility at North Carolina State University.
As the need to feed the world’s population continues, Forest said the state must have a plan and a vision for growth to be a world leader in food production. A portion of the goal includes protecting the industry for regulations and taxation, which gives farmers more money to invest in their land and hire people. Pressure and conflict from environmentalists where also mentioned by Forest. He said the farmers care about the environment and their land.
“You don’t need a bureaucrat from Raleigh coming down to Sampson County or (other government officials) telling you how to dig a ditch on your property,” he said.
Another idea Forest talked about was building an infrastructure of roads, railways and ports to export products to the world.
“This has been one of those footballs that been kicked around in North Carolina for a long time,” Forest said about investing in different type of ports.
The questions involve competing with other cites such as Norfolk, Va. and Charleston, S.C.
“It’s time for North Carolina to have a long-term vision and strategy related to growing and exporting our goods to the rest of the world,” he said.
Forest said it’s not going to happen overnight, while bringing up a vision to look down for future years. Some of the long-range plan includes increasing food manufacturing capabilities, creating new educational opportunities and work in the biotech industry to help find cures for diseases.
“All of this will be achieved if we work together to put together a long-term vision, strategy and mission to make it happen,” Forest said.
While speaking about the future, Forest said agriculture jobs are going to be different than the ones today. He brought attention to the automobile industry, driverless cars and even research to make ones that can fly.
“For those who are my age and older, this is like George Jetson,” he said referring to the animated sitcom. “It’s that kind of world now and it’s coming to fruition. It’s going to be in our day when you can take a driverless car and and drone, slap them together and get a flying car.”
To translate it to farm life, Forest said the work is going to involve more technology. He said the communities need to be connected with high speed broadband, so farmers can fly drones over fields for testing purposes and to watch over animals.
“Twenty years ago, you’ll have 100 people out working on your field on any given day,” he said referring to robotic farm equipment. “Now, you’re not going to need any. Now you’re going to need that computer science major sitting in an office somewhere looking at a computer screen, running all the equipment on your farm at one time.”
Forest said the future technology is something that should be embraced. He related the development with horse people who were afraid of automobiles in the early 1900s and losing business.
“But none of us are complaining about that now,” he said. “No one is looking for a place to tie up their horses right now to ride into Raleigh. That’s not happening.”
He continued to stress that it’s important to keep up with innovation. Forest said it’s also exciting time for young people to think about having careers in agriculture and related technology.
“It’s an exciting time for many people, so the future is going to be bright,” he said. “It’s not just going to be about digitization and high-tech stuff. It’s going to be about changing the landscape of the demographics of agriculture as well.”
As the world continue to seek our more foods high in protein, Forest said it’s going to impact Sampson and other nearby counties. By 2025, the industry is predicted to be $50 billion.
“Can you imagine what’s going to happen to this county by the year 2025? We’re on the forefront of actually growing the protein that feeds the world and the world is already demanding.”
He encouraged Sampson farmers to continue their work and for young people to take interest through education.
“Make sure that you are helping us lead North Carolina to a bright future in agriculture,” Forest said.
Forest was one of several agriculture leaders involved in the event. Some of the others included Sampson County Cooperative Extension agents, 4-H members and the FOA participants Deborah Johnson, Jay Darden, and Don Butler. Ronnie Jackson, chairman for the FOA Board of Directors, said Sampson County is fortunate to be represented by several legislators who support agriculture because of their involvement.
“Keep that mind because sometimes when you go to Raleigh, you find out that legislature is made up of people from cities, suburban areas, that don’t know nothing about agriculture.”
Jackson said people not associated can form the wrong impression from media, if they’re not taught. During his remarks, he thanked Cooperative Extension for their assistance and encouraged others to get involved with FOA.
“We look forward to seeing you again next year,” Jackson said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.