Agriculture is booming in North Carolina and Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler is proud to point that out.

But today’s successes often hide some of the critical challenges facing the state’s largest industry in the future.

Over the past decade North Carolina has lost more agricultural acres to industrial, military and residential buildup than any other state, most recently surpassing California. Despite the loss of farmland, the state’s farmers and agribusiness industry, along with staunch support from a small cadre of politicians, like Troxler, have built a $71 billion industry that surpasses the next closest — military and tourism — combined.

Troxler says revitalizing North Carolina’s rural economy with an influx of agriculture-based industries is critical to the continued growth and prosperity of the state’s largest industry. Like most states, the infrastructure of agriculture in North Carolina is aging.

From the Land-Grant system of agricultural teaching, research and Extension to aging storage, processing, transportation and port facilities, the system needs a shot of energy and strong support from the state’s elected officials, Troxler says.

The loss of farmland in itself is a tough obstacle to overcome in order to keep North Carolina’s agriculture industry booming. Troxler points out that it’s not just the quantity of farm land that is being taken out of agricultural production that threatens agriculture economic growth in the future. It’s the quality of the farm land the state is losing that is of most concern.

Soil that is good for raising farm crops is also the most desirable, from a structural standpoint, for building residential housing and industrial buildings. “If we were losing poor crop land that would be a problem, but losing high quality farm land is a much bigger problem,” the North Carolina Ag Commissioner adds.

The Commissioner is not opposed to progress, even if it means bringing more people (estimated to be 5 million more people in North Carolina in 2012 versus 2011), far from it. He is concerned about replacing highly productive farm land, or more precisely, the food this land produces.