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Five Themes Emerge from Phase 1 of NC Ag Leads

The NC Chamber Foundation is continuing to lay the groundwork for a statewide NC Ag Leads strategic plan. Launched last fall by the Golden LEAF Foundation, the NC Chamber Foundation, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau, NC Ag Leads is a pivotal strategic planning initiative for the North Carolina agriculture industry that will position the state’s number one economic driver for continued success.

Led by NC Chamber General Counsel Ray Starling, the NC Ag Leads team has traveled the state to facilitate 23 focus groups, reaching over 340 members of North Carolina’s agriculture industry to date.

In March, we hosted Imagine Ag Day with national thought leaders within the agriculture industry who provided perspective outside the core of the North Carolina agriculture industry. Most recently, a team of national experts facilitated an industry-wide “Agricultural Industry Wargame” designed to further explore the challenges uncovered during Phase 1 of the project.

A wide range of stakeholders have been engaged throughout Phase 1, the discernment phase, of NC Ag Leads which started by engaging farmers of all profiles and sizes across the state, followed by protein companies, farm service advisors, processors, salesmen, crop consultants, farm equipment companies, as well as representatives from our state’s research institutions, which include Extension and the research and development community. We also met with the ag conservation and ag tech communities, community colleges, and other higher education institutions.

Five reoccurring themes emerged during Phase 1 of NC Ag Leads:

  1. Talent Pipeline: Workforce continues to be a top concern across industries and agriculture is no different. Phase 1 of NC Ag Leads has confirmed a tremendous appetite for workers at all points of the agriculture supply chain. A shortage of workers in our fields, repair shops, labs, and research institutions is impacting both production and productivity across the industry. While technology is being leveraged to address this problem, the reality is even more people are needed to work on the development, deployment, and maintenance of technology in agriculture.
  2. Land Competition: North Carolina is the third fastest growing state in the country, and competition for land is fierce and expected to increase. Development pressure is driving up the cost of land and impeding the ability to use property freely. A speaker at Imagine Ag Day suggested policies limiting the ease of growth inside our cities is also to blame, noting it is often easier to build in rural areas than inside municipal limits.
  3. Market Access: Farmers are increasingly concerned about how to get what they are producing to the consumer. Aggregation, processing, and distribution are constant bottlenecks, especially for smaller producers, and cold-storage infrastructure is underdeveloped, making distribution of perishable products a challenge.
  4. Generational Concerns: North Carolina is facing an aging farming population and many farm operations will change hands in the next 10 to 15 years. Additionally, the agriculture industry must adapt to the changing preference of the next generation of consumers. North Carolina already has programs that can be used to solve for generational concerns. The question is what can be tweaked, improved, or lessened to make what we have more effective?
  5. Farm Support Systems: Representatives across the agriculture industry raised consistent concerns about unresponsive and overregulated farm support systems. While the programs and efforts are well-intentioned, farmers noted they do not always produce the support promised.

Following Steering Committee review this summer, NC Ag Leads will move to Phase 2, the resolution phase, of the strategic planning process. As the NC Ag Leads vision statement indicates, “At the conclusion of this project, the North Carolina agriculture community will have agreed to a set of priorities that are both aspirational and attainable, and which, if given effect, would significantly strengthen the productivity, economic vitality, and community spirit of our sector.”