Why Farming Matters

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Farming has played an important role in North Carolina’s history and continues to contribute to the culture and economy of our community today. In point of fact, family farming has made up a key feature of our own Lee County’s sense of identity. As we approach Farm-City Week this year, take a minute this harvest season to reflect on how rural and urban families depend on each other in order to continue to meet our day-to-day needs. Many of the qualities we enjoy about country living result directly from farming, including open green spaces, appealing pastoral sights, and the rural way of life. With our busy lifestyles today we sometimes forget or simply don’t notice the environmental, economic, and cultural benefits that agriculture contributes to the resilience of our community.

Our farms change as all businesses must, as new technologies, marketing conditions, and economic factors affect which agricultural activities are profitable in our region. Each is different, depending upon what they are producing and how their business operation is set up. Some specialize in producing one or two commodities to make the most use of technology and marketing economies of scale, some are very diversified to meet the needs of smaller, local tastes and others are somewhere in between.

Farms that specialize in field crops, such as tobacco, corn, soybeans, and hay, may have extensive fields but don’t produce livestock. Other operations, such as horticulture and floriculture, and poultry, purchase much of the agricultural materials or feed they need and use modern buildings that provide the environmental control required for best production practices. Our family farms may look different, but all face uncertainties intrinsic in weather, yields, prices, government policies, global markets, and other factors that can cause wide swings in farm income.

While the production part of farming is the image we’re most familiar with, our farms play a variety of other roles in our state and local community. They fill a vital stewardship need too from supporting the rural picturesque setting that makes our area attractive and draws people to our community to preserve the environmental sustainability functions that make our area work on an ecological level.

We’ve had a close-up view of what happens in extreme weather conditions with massive rain loads. Farm fields provide the land area necessary for rainwater to percolate slowly through the soil, recharging groundwater. Farmland reduces stormwater and flood damage because less rainwater runs off into streams and other waterways. Another benefit farms add to our area is the diversity of our local ecosystem. The mix of fields, hedgerows, woodlots, and wetlands on farms is particularly important habitat for many species of wildlife. We all benefit from the fact that every species, large and small, plays an important ecological role and greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability. Just imagine the consequences if our farmland wasn’t here any longer to meet these needs.

The economics of a strong agriculture industry impact all of us. Not only do farms provide a livelihood for our neighbors who farm full-time they also supplement the household income of folks who farm part-time, while working full-time off-the-farm jobs. Our family farms also support employment in other parts of the agribusiness system as well. These include jobs at farm supply companies that provide equipment, machinery, seed, and fertilizer; as wells as at processing and distribution companies, which transport, process, package, and market our local farm products to consumers near and far. Imagine the financial impact on our local food systems and small businesses without local agriculture as part of the picture.

Farmland also provides a tax advantage to communities that many of our residents don’t realize they benefit from. Studies consistently find that agricultural land provides more revenue to local governments and school districts than it requires back in services. Residential land, in contrast, tends to require more in services than it returns in revenues. Farmland helps keep residents’ property taxes lower than they would be otherwise.

Farming and agriculture have been an important part of North Carolina’s economy throughout its history. Today, our state’s agriculture industry, including food, fiber, and forestry, contributes around $84 billion to the economy. With over 35,230,000 dollars in cash receipts from farm marketing and government payments, agriculture in Lee County still remains a large piece of the economic bottom line in our community. To find out more regarding what’s happening in our agricultural community, join us at the Farm-City Banquet on Monday evening, November 19, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $8 and may be purchased at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. The meal will consist of Country Ham, Red-eye gravy, scrambled eggs, grits, biscuits with molasses, and tea.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.