Ray Starling, a Sampson County native and Midway High graduate, came back home this week, addressing a room full of agriculture supporters Thursday night during the Sampson County Friends of Agriculture’s 15th Rally for Agriculture.
As a former local and state FFA leader, Starling, who now serves as Chief of Staff to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, knows a thing or two about agriculture and has remained a staunch advocate for farmers. He showed both during his address to the nearly packed Agri-Exposition Center.
He touched on the EPA, the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Senate Bill 974 which, he noted, would prohibit employees under the age of 18 from having direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves.
His main point, and one he left behind for the audience, was a quote from William Jennings Bryan: “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”
The evening began with Jay Darden, Friends of Ag treasurer, talking about the group’s vision and mission. Friends of Ag’s vision, he said, was to promote long-term economic viability of the agricultural community while their mission is to help the agricultural community, officials, and other decision-makers generate informed judgments regarding agricultural production, processing, and marketing.
Ed Emory followed the supper, catered by Sandpiper Seafood, and commented on the great turnout on “such a beautiful day when farmers would rather be in their fields.” He said he was happy to report that over 11,000 signatures were given to Gov. Pat McCrory showing the support of hog farmers and their importance. He also talked about a recent N.C. Farm Families ad campaign which showed the importance of hog farmers and the role they play in society. After the ads ran, he stressed, negative opinions of hog farmers went down significantly.
Congressman David Rouzer also made a surprise appearance, thanked everyone for all the support and prayers as well as mentioning the three sections he works hardest in that he believes keeps the government working its best — agriculture, energy, and infrastructure policies
“If you get it right in those three areas, you can screw a lot else up and it won’t harm you,” Rouzer stressed.
The highlight of the night, however, came from Starling. He began talking about the EPA’s attempt to clarify the scope of its jurisdiction. He said “the concern remains that depressions created by equipment used when land is soft and that later hold water could, under the EPA’s proposal, be subject to permitting or other regulatory controls.”
Starling was quick to assure farmers that the American Farm Bureau, and other groups, have sued to stop the ruling and it’s stayed in courts so far.
He then moved on to the TPP and TTIP agreements. These agreements, he noted, are at a point where he says “that’s called picking winners and losers. And it’s OK if you’re a winner, but not so much if you’re a loser.” They also target tobacco farmers and make them out to be the “losers,” so Starling and Tillis are opposing this law to stand up for the tobacco farmers. He said they “would do the same if it were our pig farmers or soybean farmers or even the melon farmers from Autryville.”
His last point was on Senate Bill 974. Regarding the bill, Starling received a letter urging him to support the law and he wrote a paragraph in response; in that paragraph he quoted something his parents had always said about working in tobacco fields: “such work builds character and frequently motivates youth.”
He ended his talk by urging the community to support the candidates that they felt best met their beliefs and values and also to get involved more with the events around them.