Josh Stein shares how he’ll support the agriculture industry during visit to Wilson County farm

Democratic nominee for Governor Josh Stein and Pender Sharp at Sharp Family Farms in Wilson County. May 13, 2024. Photo: Dylan Rhoney/Cardinal & Pine

By Dylan Rhoney

May 14, 2024

The Democratic nominee for governor visited Sharp Family Farms on Monday and discussed his plans to protect and support the state’s farming industry. North Carolina is projected to lose over a million acres of farmland by 2040.

Pender Sharp’s family has farmed in the Wilson County area for four generations, growing tobacco, sweet potatoes, and other crops, while also raising livestock.

By many measures, Sharp Family Farms is thriving, having expanded into Nash, Wayne, and Johnston counties. The operation also cares for land owned by other individuals, who lease their property to Sharp Family Farms.

Sharp, the farm manager and treasurer, touted his family’s roots and farming business during an event this week with Democratic nominee for governor Josh Stein.

“We’ve been farming here since the late 1800s, and our farming operation today, we tend to about 240 farms in four counties, about 5,000 acres,” Sharp told Stein.

But Sharp Family Farms also has its fair share of challenges, as Stein, the current state attorney general, learned during a tour on Monday.

Challenges to the future of farmland in the state

One of the biggest challenges facing Sharp Family Farms is the continued development of rural North Carolina.

“The biggest challenge we have on the farm—and my grandson can tell you because he’s hit more than anybody—is mailboxes. As housing developments come into the community, 40 houses is 80 cars on the road the next morning,” Sharp explained.

The additional housing, and the traffic that results from it, can pose problems for the operation when they have to move large equipment from one location to another.

It also raises larger questions about what rural communities—and the agriculture industry—will look like in the future.

North Carolina is on track to lose around 1.2 million-acres of farmland by 2040, the second-most in the United States. But the state is also facing an affordable housing crisis that has reached rural communities.

The question of how to address these issues—solutions to which might seem to be at odds with each other—was posed to Stein during the tour.

“You have to have a balance, and it’s never easy. We need to have more housing developed in order to lower housing costs. Right now the cost of housing is too high for too many people,” Stein said.

He believes a mix of housing options would provide needed housing options and lower costs, as well as help manage growth.

“But we can also get that through greater density. We need more single-family housing. But we also need more duplexes, and triplexes, and quadplexes,” Stein continued. “We need condominiums and apartments, we need special needs housing. We can do those things at the same time that we’re sensitive to the importance of preserving farmland.”

Stein praised the operation at Sharp Family Farms as an example of farmland preservation.

“One thing that Pender is doing here, and the whole Sharp family operation, they are helping older farmers who are no longer in a position to manage and maintain their own farmland any longer by coming in and having a commercial relationship where the land gets farmed and stays in productive use,” he said.

Sharp told Stein that the company has worked farms in the area across generations, but that challenges do arise.

“We’ve got farms we’ve been tending for three generations…when the grandkids inherit it, they don’t love it quite as good as their grandparents, and many of those fall victim to high real estate values and they sell the farm,” Sharp explained.

The Census of Agriculture found that from 2017 to 2022, the number of farms in the state decreased by 8%.

Agriculture remains a key industry in North Carolina

Despite the pressures on farmland and agriculture, it remains a top industry in the state.

North Carolina State University projected that in 2021, the economic impact of the agriculture and agribusiness industry in the state surpassed $100 billion for the first time—equal to around 16% of the state’s $662 billion gross domestic product (GDP). Agriculture is also responsible for about 20% of jobs in North Carolina, making it the largest industry in the state.

“We have a lot of challenges out here, but we’re still North Carolina’s largest employer. Agriculture still has a huge, huge impact in this state,” Sharp told Stein.

Stein said it’s important that the state continue to support the farming industry.

“My philosophy is pretty basic,” Stein said. “Government can help create conditions for you to succeed, and that’s what we should do. Help you set standards, and make sure that there’s fair rules of the road, and they’re equally enforced, and then get out of the way, and certainly don’t create problems for ourselves.”

Author

  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

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