North Carolina’s soybean growers and other leading farm groups joined forces in the fall of 2011 to form North Carolina Animal Agriculture Coalition — the first of its kind in the Southeast.

Supporting the NCAAC is a natural thing for North Carolina soybean growers says Association President Charles Hall.

North Carolina grows more soybeans than any other state east of the Mississippi River and ranks among the tops in the country in poultry and among the leaders in the Southeast in hogs.

The scope of agriculture in North Carolina is huge and wide-ranging. North Carolina has approximately 2,300 hog farms and raises nearly 10 million hogs annually. Poultry growers in the state produce more than 10 percent of the country’s eggs, chicken and turkey products.

Hall says animal agriculture is the single largest customer for soybean meal, which is one of the two main components of soybeans. Soy oil and meal generate more than $9 billion annually to boost the state’s economy.

North Carolina's agricultural industry, including food, fiber and forestry, contributes more than $70 billion annually to the state's economy, and accounts for 18 percent of the state's income, and employs over 17 percent of the work force.

The state's 52,400 farmers grow over 80 different commodities, utilizing 8.6 million of the state's 31 million acres to furnish consumers a dependable and affordable supply of food and fiber.

North Carolina produces more tobacco and sweet potatoes than any other state and ranks second in Christmas tree cash receipts, and the production of hogs and turkeys.

The state ranks seventh nationally in farm profits with a net farm income of over $3.3 billion.

Nationwide, the impact the various components of agriculture have on each other and the impact the sum total of agriculture has on the economic well being of all states is beginning to capture the attention of various commodity groups, including the five groups that started the NCAAC.

Bring customers, growers closer together

The national organization (American Soybean Association) and other soy-based industries have begun to look at ways to bring customers and growers closer together.

The national program has been dubbed ‘beyond the elevator’.

“In looking at what happens to our crop once it’s delivered to the grain elevator, it has dawned on the soybean industry how valuable animal agriculture is to all our livelihoods,” Hall says.

“Other states have formed animal agriculture groups in response to anti-agriculture coalition groups that have access to political ballots. We feel like our group is more pro-active and has a real opportunity to have a unified voice in support of agriculture that we may not have when speaking as different organizations within agriculture,” he adds.

The founding members of the North Carolina Animal Agriculture Coalition are the North Carolina Farm Bureau, North Carolina Pork Council, North Carolina Poultry Federation, the North Carolina Cattlemens Association and the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association.

Two states, North Carolina and Iowa dwarf the use of soybean meal among all other agriculture states in the U.S. Iowa animal agriculture is dominated by swine production, while North Carolina is among the top five in poultry and hogs.

In addition to the five founding organizations, the North Carolina Corn Growers Association, the North Carolina Dairy Association and various breed associations have become active associate members of the group.

Only in their first year of operation, Hall says in a short period of time he expects to add dozens of members to the organization.

“I hope all groups involved with livestock and feed stock production will be members. Certainly feed and grain dealers and other similar organizations would bring a wealth of support for our organization,” Hall says.

“This organization is geared to generate some common messages that all of agriculture can share with opinion leaders and political leaders. We’re not so much interested right now in influencing political policies, rather making a clear statement on how much animal agriculture means to North Carolina,” he adds.

“Animal agriculture has a huge impact on the economies of rural areas of the state. Whether they are soybean producers or swine producers, the products they sell contribute significantly to hundreds of communities in which these producers live.

“The NCAAC will prepare producers to go out and speak to Rotary Clubs, county commissioner meetings and similar organizations. A unified message on the impact of animal agriculture in the state is critical for producers, but it’s also critical to continued supply of safe and affordable food.

Would be tremendous blow

“If we were to lose animal agriculture, it would be a tremendous blow to the entire state. For example, Cargill has some fairly old plants that are running to capacity to supply the soybean meal critical to the state’s livestock industry.

“Should we lose this infrastructure it would be long-term and it would severely damage North Carolina’s No. 1 industry,” Hall says.

The livestock industry is dependent on grain farmers for a continuous supply of feed for their animals. Grain growers are similarly dependent on animal agriculture for a viable, sustainable market for their products. Losing either would have a serious impact on the other to survive.

Survival of the agriculture industry in North Carolina is tantamount to survival of the state. Agriculture is a $71 billion dollar industry in the Tar Heel State, by far the largest and bigger than tourism and military the second and third largest capital producing industries.

“We feel like the NCAAC will build some relationships between livestock and row crop producers and make existing relationships stronger. We are different than most states, because many grain growers are also livestock growers.

“In other states, Illinois for example, it is doubtful a large soybean grower would also be a large swine producer,” Hall says.

The organization got its start from a simple meeting of the heads of the five organizations sitting down to talk about common challenges within their respective industries.

There were a number of disconnects among influential people in the state and how these leaders were reacting to challenges from anti-agriculture activists.

“We sat down together and took a close look at the collective challenges we face in North Carolina, and began the process of developing programs with a common message that support all of the organizations, plus our associate members who have subsequently joined the NCAAC,” Hall says.

“It was not a program that was pushed on us by individuals or groups outside the state. And, it wasn’t in response to any particular challenge that any of our members were facing. It was mutual coming together by the five founding organizations to find better ways to work together.

“Each organization retains its own political lobbying components and carries out ongoing policy-shaping efforts. Our organization produces information geared to educating policy makers and hopefully help them better understand the value of both row crop and livestock agriculture to the state,” Hall says.

rroberson@farmpress.com