Under the Dome

Farm bill benefits agriculture, governor

Governor Pat McCrory, right, chuckles as N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, left, makes his remarks during a ceremony where leaders from a variety of state agencies came to see Gov. McCrory sign a bill that puts his bonds issue before voters in the spring during an event held on the N.C. State Centennial Campus in Raleigh on Oct. 21, 2015. The proposal, called Connect NC, targets investments in North Carolina's roads, education, public health, parks and military, from small farming towns to large cities.
Governor Pat McCrory, right, chuckles as N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, left, makes his remarks during a ceremony where leaders from a variety of state agencies came to see Gov. McCrory sign a bill that puts his bonds issue before voters in the spring during an event held on the N.C. State Centennial Campus in Raleigh on Oct. 21, 2015. The proposal, called Connect NC, targets investments in North Carolina's roads, education, public health, parks and military, from small farming towns to large cities. cseward@newsobserver.com

Public bill-signing ceremonies are opportunities for governors to attract favorable attention to themselves as well as to the beneficiaries of new laws.

This year’s annual Farm Act provided just such an opportunity last week, as Gov. Pat McCrory, who is running for re-election, emphasized his commitment to agriculture, and state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler praised his fellow Republican as a friend to farmers.

“He has been a wonderful, wonderful advocate to move agriculture forward in North Carolina,” Troxler said at a brief state Board of Agriculture meeting before the ceremony.

He has been a wonderful, wonderful advocate to move agriculture forward in North Carolina.

Steve Troxler

McCrory tossed out the important numbers: Agriculture contributes $84 billion annually to North Carolina’s economy and supports more than 646,000 jobs, and the statewide bond he championed includes $179 million for agricultural research and testing.

He updated board members on the state’s ongoing fight with what he considers overreaching regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And he warned, “There’s a lot of work out there being done by some of the more extreme environmental groups that, I think, are going way overboard.”

He didn’t elaborate. National and North Carolina environmental groups have spent a lot of money on TV commercials and billboards critical of the governor and the state’s large livestock operations. Last year, the majority of the legislature was opposed to undercover investigations by animal welfare groups at factory farms, a tactic that is now illegal under a law that McCrory vetoed last year, to the dismay of business and agriculture interests. McCrory said the bill was too broad because it affected all businesses, not just agriculture, but the General Assembly overrode and the law went into effect this year.

In reaching out to agriculture interests last week, the governor said the state is committed to clean water and clean air, “but we also have to be extremely careful that we have common-sense environmental protections.”

$84 billion agriculture contributes annually to the North Carolina economy 646,000 Jobs supported by agriculture $179 million From statewide bond issue toward agricultural research and testing

The Farm Act of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Brent Jackson, a Republican and farmer from Autryville, didn’t receive much attention during the session, as it was mostly devoid of controversy. After sailing through the Senate without opposition it ran into Democratic turbulence in the House, but not enough to stop it.

Here are the highlights:

Shooting swine: This is the provision in the bill that drew the most attention. It authorizes state and federal wildlife agents to cull feral swine by shooting them from aircraft. It can only be done with written permission from the property owner, and is prohibited in coastal counties during waterfowl season.

Emergency response teams: Allows the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to deploy prevention and recovery squads to respond to agricultural emergencies that damage or threaten land, facilities or operations.

Deer farming: Sets up a voluntary assessment on deer farmers that the state would collect and remit quarterly to the N.C. Deer and Elk Farmers Association. The money would be used to promote the fledgling industry, in which deer are raised for their antlers and meat. Concerns have been raised that expanding the industry would increase the threat of a disease that is deadly to deer.

Farm to cafeteria: Allows school boards to use more locally grown food through price preferences and other policies.

Deregulation: Permits will not be required for certain kinds of construction, installation, repair, replacement or alterations costing less than $15,000 for residential and farm buildings, so long as the work is performed under the state building code requirements.

Sedimentation controls: Exempts from state sedimentation pollution controls activities related to the production of crops, grains, fruits, vegetables, ornamental plants, dairy, livestock and poultry. Some environmental groups opposed this provision.

Renewable energy credit: Commercial processors of renewable fuel will have their production credit extended for three years. The facilities are eligible for a tax credit equal to 25 percent of the cost of building and equipping them.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

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