The importance of agriculture to the North Carolina economy cannot be understated, providing more than $70 billion in economic activity and almost one-fifth of the jobs in our state alone. Throughout the country, agriculture directly accounts for one out of every 12 jobs, and is the driving economic engine in many areas of the United States, including in the Eighth District.
As I travel throughout the district, I enjoy meeting with our farmers and ranchers and am always impressed by their work ethic, stewardship of the land and the volume and variety of products they produce. It is important to remember, however, that not only do they provide us with many of the necessities of life, but agriculture as a whole has a ripple effect on local economies, supporting many jobs and businesses that are related to agricultural production.
For example, I have seen cotton grown and harvested in the Eighth District, ginned, spun into yarn, and knitted into high quality shirts, all within the borders of our great state of North Carolina. In this example, the seeds planted by farmers here created jobs throughout the state. I bet you didn’t know that the Eighth District produces more broiler chickens than anywhere else in the state, and more than almost all other congressional districts across the country. Not only are these chickens raised by local family farms, but the hatcheries, feed mills and processing facilities are all located in the same area. Both the textile and poultry industries provide jobs and economic stimulus at every level of production. While we remain a leader in cotton and poultry production, North Carolina is also a virtual “horn of plenty” in many other agricultural products, and boasts the third most diverse agriculture economy in the nation.
I am proud to represent our district’s agriculture community as a member of the House Agriculture Committee. I also serve on the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, which oversees many of our most important “on the farm” programs, like crop insurance. In addition, I am a member of the Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee. This subcommittee oversees wide-ranging rural development programs that strengthen our rural areas, foreign agriculture, and market access programs that provide our nations bounty to the world, including agricultural research and the ever important use of biotechnology.
It is important to point out that the annual Farm Bill is not just a price support system for farmers, but an investment in rural America and our nation. Aside from the Farm Bill programs, the Agriculture Committee also oversees a robust nutrition title that feeds millions of hungry and economically distressed families, conservation programs to help farmers and ranchers continue to be great stewards of the land, and programs that improve energy efficiency and help wean us off of foreign oil — a dangerous threat to both our economic and national security.
The Farm Bill fulfills the chief legislative mandate of the Agriculture Committee: to oversee the nation’s agriculture and rural policy. It is designed to be reformed or reauthorized every four years, with the current Farm Bill due to expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2012. The Agriculture Committee has already begun focusing on the 2012 Farm Bill, and we have just completed a thorough audit of Farm Bill programs. In addition to the audit hearings, we held a number of field hearings across the country last year, including one in Fayetteville, in order to hear from industry representatives in and around our communities here at home.
During these uncertain economic times, fiscal responsibility is a paramount priority. The 2008 Farm Bill was a successful bipartisan effort that reduced spending while providing a safety net, a robust conservation title and nutrition programs that benefit our school children and working families in need. Even as the Agriculture Committee took steps in 2008 toward curbing spending, before many others in Congress did so, we still face sweeping cuts as we begin drafting the next Farm Bill. I strongly believe that we have to get our fiscal house in order, but we also have to protect the safety net, conservation, rural development, and nutrition programs and not cut them in a disproportionate manner or without taking into consideration the already substantial savings found in the 2008 Farm Bill. The end result could potentially cost the government more money, not less. Our farmers feed our nation, and we must fight to protect a continued bountiful, safe and secure harvest. It is truly a matter of national security.