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Agriculture is an integral and crucial part of North Carolina's economy. However, many people don't realize how important agriculture is to our state. Here are some facts about North Carolina agriculture.

  • One out of every four people in our state relies on agriculture for their livelihoods,
  • North Carolina ranks 15th among states in the number of farms,
  • Our net cash return from agricultural sales each year is $1.6 billion, eighth highest in the nation,
  • Agriculture accounts for nearly one-quarter of our state's income
  • Agriculture in North Carolina employs twenty-two percent of the state's work force.

    Unfortunately, the agricultural community has experienced hardship over the past several years. Continuing low commodity prices and repeated natural disasters have made it much harder for farmers to earn a living. As a result, many of them have become increasingly dependent on emergency assistance payments provided by the federal government.

    Congress has been hard at work dealing with the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th. We passed legislation to strengthen our military, fund the worldwide war against terrorism, improve airport security, provide tools to help law enforcement fight terrorism, and rebuild New York City and the Pentagon. While these efforts are critical to our national security, it is important that we do not forget that our nation's farmers play an integral role in our country's security by providing the food and fiber that feeds this nation and the world.

    I agree with President Bush that agriculture is the cornerstone of our national economy. Farmers deserve a stronger safety net if they are to survive difficult economic conditions and thrive during more prosperous times. To address that goal, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new farm bill, H.R. 2646, the Farm Security Act, on October 5, 2001.

    The Farm Security Act, if it becomes law, would pour an additional $73.5 billion into the farm economy in the form of Agriculture Marketing Transition Act (AMTA) payments, marketing loans, trade promotion, conservation programs, nutrition programs, agricultural research, and rural development. I voted for this legislation, but I believe the bill should have provided more assistance to our farmers and rural communities. Unfortunately, the Congressional Republican Leadership's irresponsible budget did not provide enough financial support for all of agriculture's needs.

    In fact, during the House's consideration of the new farm bill, the Administration criticized the Farm Security Act as "too expensive." This and other actions call into question this Administration's commitment to farmers and farm communities. The smooth and efficient management of USDA depends on having qualified people in key positions. Unfortunately, it has been more than a year since the President took office and many of these key positions remain unfilled. Tobacco and peanuts are among the most important crops in North Carolina, and there is still no Director of the Department's Tobacco and Peanuts Division. In addition, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, which is charged with maintaining and improving the actuarial soundness of Federal multiperil crop insurance coverage, is still lacking a manager.

    And finally, the President's Commission on Improving Economic Opportunity in Communities Dependent on Tobacco Production While Protecting Public Health issued its report in May of 2001. In its report, the Commission - comprised of tobacco farmers and public health representatives - unanimously recommended that current tobacco quota holders be "bought out," of the current program

    That is why I have written a letter to the President and asked him to include full funding for a buyout of tobacco quota in his fiscal year 2003 budget. Based on the Commission's report, a minimum of $17 billion is necessary to ensure all quota holders and tobacco farmers could take advantage of a buyout. Full funding is critical to making a buyout work and including it in the budget will send a clear signal to the Congress that this Administration stands with tobacco communities in their time of need. I hope the President responds favorably to my request.

    There is no disputing the fact that our country's priorities shifted on September 11th. But just as we support our men and women in uniform as they fight our enemies overseas and just as we stand with our Commander-in-Chief, we must support the men and women who work the land and till the soil to put food on the tables of the American people. You can be sure that I will continue to fight for North Carolina's farmers and rural communities.

     

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