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Secretary of Agriculture discusses agriculture issues in North Carolina

By Erin Smith

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited North Carolina on Monday and met with farmers, business leaders, elected officials and college students at the University of Mount Olive.

Perdue listened to concerns as well as answering questions regarding agricultural trade tariffs, disaster relief and the issues with farm workers.

One question asked is how can universities and the Department of Agriculture better engage young adults in considering agriculture as a career. A spokesman from NC State University pointed out there is a need in future for 79,000 graduates and currently there are only 39,000 students who are majoring in and graduating from agriculture or agricultural related programs.

“In this country we are probably still suffering from a stigma of agriculture because many people don’t know the complexity of all it takes to be in agriculture and the wide breadth of the supply chain from the fields to the tables,” said Perdue.

He stated there needs to be better communication in our communities about agriculture and its importance. Perdue also noted there should be better promotion of things such as research that is taking place in agriculture.

Perdue also discussed that farmers don’t have to have a 1,000 acres to farm. Young adults can begin an agriculture career with smaller tracts of land.

Brad Leggett, a farmer from Nash County, asked about the agricultural trade tariffs implemented by China in retaliation for tariffs put in place by President Donald Trump. He said the question was submitted by his son.

“This  is from a 12-year old little boy who wants to farm. We raise tobacco, sweet potatoes, cotton and soy beans,” said Legget.

He explained that the tobacco industry is being hurt by the tariffs and other restrictions being placed on it.

Perdue used a sports analogy to answer the question. He explained that China has been aggressively attacking the tobacco market. Perdue compared it to stealing a baseball glove and bat. Perdue said President Trump is trying to make that there is a “level playing field for everyone.”

“I think the Chinese and President Trump really want a deal,” said Perdue.

He stated there is a lot of anxiety among tobacco farmers because there is uncertainty regarding contracts for the next growing season.

He also discussed disaster relief issues. Perdue said there have been issues with the Natural Resources Conservation Service that has slowed the issuing of disaster relief funds. He said there is a lack of training and lack of experience among the NRSC staff in dealing with disasters. 

He also added Congress is working on a $3 billion disaster bill to bring more funding to farmers who have been suffering due Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

Perdue spoke briefly on the new trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada. He said the new agreement will be an improvement for farmers and will open more markets in those countries. Perdue explained Mexico and Canada are the top agricultural trading partners with the US. He said the Senate is still reviewing the agreement.

“We must get this across the finish line,” said Perdue.

Broadband internet service was another topic briefly discussed.  Perdue said it is important that broadband internet be made available in rural areas.

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