For just the second time, Willie Nelson's Farm Aid benefit is coming to North Carolina. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) Farm Aid Returns to North Carolina
For just the second time, Willie Nelson's Farm Aid benefit is coming to North Carolina. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Willie Nelson’s farm-boosting benefit show is coming to North Carolina. The timing couldn’t be better for N.C.’s biggest industry.

There’s a great lineup of musical artists coming our way to perform soon: Willie Nelson, Margo Price, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp and others are headed to Raleigh on Sept. 24. 

With tickets on sale Saturday for Farm Aid, there’s no doubt the music will get most of the buzz as people seek to jam out in what will hopefully be a cooler late September in North Carolina.  

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But there’s a good cause in play, too. Farms are near and dear to North Carolina’s heart, history and economy. Agriculture has long been North Carolina’s biggest industry, generating around $90 billion in revenue per year.

Cardinal & Pine sought to answer some burning questions about the Farm Aid festival and the organization’s mission, which makes its return for the second time to North Carolina.

What’s Farm Aid about?

It all started with a phone conversation involving Willie Nelson. 

In the mid-1980s, the plight of family farmers was well-known as thousands were going into bankruptcy across the country. Nelson was reportedly talking to David Senter, the former director of the American Agriculture Movement, when the idea for a show that would bring attention to the issue and dollars to family farmers began to percolate.

The annual show — featuring Nelson and other notable musicians — began in 1985. The organization through its marquee shows has raised $64 million for family farmers’ causes since.  

How are family farmers doing now in North Carolina?

Not good. Family farmers are struggling here and across the country. 

In 2019, another wave of bankruptcies hit family farmers, as bad weather events and the Trump administration’s trade war with China made markets for farm goods terrible across the country. Just like in the mid-80s, bankruptcies shot up.

Farmers operate on increasingly slim profit margins … which we’ll explore a bit below. 

Why have family farms suffered so much in N.C. and elsewhere?

Despite popular belief, 99% of farms are owned by families and not corporations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

As Farm Aid points out on its website, this distorts the real issues, however. Corporate control is very much at the center of why family farmers continue to struggle in the U.S.

The organization explains:

Farmers need to buy things to operate their farms, like seeds, machinery, fertilizers and other goods. Sellers with high market power can inflate the prices farmers must pay for these items. Meanwhile, processors and other powerful buyers can suppress the prices they offer farmers. Often having no other options for companies to sell to, farmers are forced to take whatever prices they can.

The razor-thin profit margins on which farmers are forced to operate often push them to “get big or get out”—either expanding into mega-operations or leaving the land altogether.

How does Farm Aid help? 

Farm Aid says it helps farmers in crisis, supports organizations in states and communities across the country that help farmers and their families. In North Carolina, Farm Aid is currently providing a grant to the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project in Durham.