Ted Budd Says He’s An Ally to Farmers. His Record Is More Complicated.

By Michael McElroy

August 23, 2022

Budd has made several votes against farmers’ interests, and his family was involved with AgriBioTech, a bankrupted company that cost farmers millions of dollars and left a tax debt in N.C.

North Carolina’s Senate election between Democrat Cheri Beasley and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd is one of only a few races in the country that could go either way and will come down to, perhaps, a small number of votes. 

In a closely- divided Senate, that means that what happens here will reverberate across the country.

Beasley, a former NC Supreme Court chief justice, has been clear on the campaign trail about her policy priorities, but the metrics of adjudication, with its emphasis on existing laws, can make it difficult for voters to gauge how a judge who now wants to be a senator would vote while creating new laws.

For Budd, however, things are much clearer. 

His voting record in the House offers voters an easy-to-follow map on what he is likely to do in the Senate. And in the Senate, with those razor thin margins, his vote would count for more. 

Recent votes in Congress reflect some of the major issues that will come up again after the November elections, and Budd’s votes are unsurprising given the stark differences between Republicans and Democrats. 

Budd, for example, has over the last year voted against a hate crime bill, several bills to prevent violence or discrimination against women, and efforts to codify abortion rights.

But he has also voted against several economic aid bills expected to benefit the North Carolinians Budd says he cares about the most: Farmers and rural communities.

Agriculture is one of the leading industries in North Carolina, with more than 52,000 farms across the state. Budd’s voting record on agriculture and farming is complicated,

the Budd family was involved with a now-bankrupt company that cost farmers across 39 states millions and left a substantial tax debt, including in N.C.

Here is a look at Budd’s record around legislation that would or has already helped North Carolina’s rural and farming communities. 

A Complicated Relationship With Farmers

Across his life in public office, Budd’s pro-farmer narrative has been consistent. He grew up on a farm, he says, and lives there still.

But the first question about that narrative, the Washington Post reported last year, showed up while Budd was just out of college. 

In 2000, Budd’s father Richard was the chief executive of AgriBioTech, a global agriculture company that was on the verge of bankruptcy. While Ted Budd, 27 and returning home from seminary school, had no role at the company, he was one of 11 people who signed off on a $10 million loan from the Budd family to the company, the Post reported. He was also a shareholder in the company, according to the Post.

Richard Budd, became chief executive of AgriBioTech in March of 1999 and in June of that year traveled to Wyoming to reassure some of AgriBioTech’s clients, alfalfa farmers, that the company was in good financial standing and that they should continue to send their crops for processing.

Some of the farmers had not been paid for the crops they’d already delivered to the company, the Post said, and others were worried that they’d not be paid for any future deliveries. 

“Speaking to farmers at the small town’s Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge,” the Post wrote, “Budd told them to send their seed to the company’s facilities and said they would be paid, according to Tod Stutzman, a farmer who attended the meeting.”

Around the same time, the Post said, the company, with Richard Budd as its chief executive, repaid the Budd family’s loan with just over $25,000 in interest. 

In January, 2000, AgriBioTech filed for bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy, coming a few months after the Budd family got its loan back in full, meant that some 1,200 farmers in 39 states did not get the money they were owed, the Post said, an amount exceeding $50 million. 

And according to court documents reviewed by Cardinal & Pine, AgriBioTech also owed $1.3 million in taxes, including $33,000 in North Carolina state taxes.

A trustee for some of the farmers filed a federal lawsuit against the Budd family, the Post reported, naming Ted Budd specifically and accusing the family of fraudulent money transfers connected to the loan. The family and its entities settled the case, agreeing to pay some $6 million, but that payment, the family said, did not mean they had done anything wrong.

In a statement to the Post when the story came out, Richard Budd said that his son had nothing to do with the company’s bankruptcy or its failure to pay its clients for their goods. 

He also said there was nothing fraudulent about the company’s payments to the Budd family.

“Asked if Ted Budd believes his family owes an apology to farmers who suffered losses in the AgriBioTech bankruptcy,” the Post wrote, “Richard Budd responded, ‘Your attempts to tie my son to this business are dishonest and offensive. I wish my personal efforts to save ABT had been successful, but they were not. I did my best, but in this case, my best was not enough to save ABT.’”

Several Votes Against Farmers

There is no question that Budd has proposed and supported bills in Congress that would help farmers, but he also voted against several bills that would have helped farmers even more.

The most recent legislation Budd voted against would not just help NC farmers, but protect them from catastrophe.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the most significant federal legislation to fight climate change, and Budd was hardly alone in voting against it: Not a single Republican in either chamber supported it.

North Carolina’s agriculture industry accounts for some 11% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the main driver of climate change.

To fight climate change and give the world a chance at avoiding its worst-case effects, farmers will have to adapt. Adaptation, while unavoidable, is not cheap.

Without help, the farmers themselves will bear those costs directly, as will the countless people and industries who depend on the farms for food. 

The IRA, the news site Vox points out, includes $20 billion to help US farms offset their emissions.

The money will help them be more resilient against the current threats from flooding, droughts and storms that will only get worse as warming accelerates. 

NC farms earned nearly $11 billion in 2020, and is the state’s leading industry, but damages associated with climate change could cost the state millions in the agriculture sector. A 2006 report estimated that agriculture profits could fall by nearly 25% in North Carolina.

Warming has accelerated significantly over the last 15 years and will continue to do so. 

Budd voted against the bill.

Votes Against Broadband for Rural N.C.

Nearly 30% of NC’s households lack access to a high-speed internet connection, and the bulk of these families live in rural areas. 

Budd has often said that expanding broadband is important for farming communities and rural areas in general, and several other pieces of federal legislation, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden, have started to deliver on that goal.

Budd voted against them both.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan (ARP), both signed into law in 2021, each included vast resources to expand internet access across the country. The IIJA alone provided North Carolina $1 billion to expand broadband in rural communities, and the state has already started awarding local grants to help do so.

This summer, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced it had awarded grants to bring broadband to thousands of rural households across 23 rural counties, including Iredell and Davie Counties, which make up the bulk of Budd’s district. 

The grants, totalling more than $50 million, were made possible by the federal funding Budd repeatedly voted against. 

So Why Did He Vote Against These Things?

Budd and most other Republicans have cited the costs of these bills as a reason they voted against them.

But the infrastructure, stimulus and climate change bills have also improved the lives of lower income and middle income North Carolinians and helped them stay afloat in a pandemic-rattled economy.

The money in these bills went to keep people fed, alive, and in their jobs. 

The stimulus packages helped farmers deal with the food surpluses caused by a nation suddenly unable to go to restaurants anymore. 

The money in the climate bill will help farmers manage direct threats to their livelihoods. 

It is unclear, however, if Budd’s mixed record helping rural communities will matter much to the Republicans in those communities.

Budd voted against a major farm bill in 2018 that drew support from the vast majority of both parties. 

That vote came up frequently in the NC’s Republican primary this year, with both of Budd’s opponents criticizing him for it and calling him “no friend to farmers.”

Voters still chose him in the primary by wide margins, possibly because he was endorsed by former President Trump, who despite his well-publicized legal troubles, remains an influential figure in the N.C. GOP.

Across Duplin, Sampson and Wayne Counties, for example, three of the biggest agricultural hubs in the state, Budd beat his nearest Republican competitor by nearly 8,000 votes.


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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