Steve Troxler has been planting and tending the seeds of ag leadership all his life. He's made two runs at the top ag job in North Carolina and believes he's right to lead the state in its transition after the buyout.
Sitting in the almost 100-year-old home he and his wife remodeled, Troxler, a Republican, explains his views on the future of agriculture and his vision for leading the state's department of agriculture and consumer services. He's formulating campaign strategy in the extra-laps venue that evolved from the Nov. 2 election and took him away from home to the coast of North Carolina.
A self-described “throw-back” to the hands-on approach of tackling the job, Troxler has been involved in agricultural leadership for most of his adult life. He's a mechanic, an electrician, a carpenter, a financial person, a tobacco farmer and wheat farmer and an ag leader. He's a Renaissance man, “a dirt farmer from Browns Summit who's seen the world.
“I'll take the same hands-on approach, while relying on the advice of experts in various fields as ag commissioner,” Troxler says. He believes a farmer should lead the department. One of his first jobs will be to meet with all of the employees of the state department of agriculture.
He had anticipated readying himself to be sworn in as North Carolina ag commissioner after leading the vote tally in the November election. But an election glitch involving about 4,000 lost votes in Carteret County, N.C., found him and his opponent readying for a Jan. 11 election in one county, not the whole state.
Troxler finds himself campaigning door-to-door in coastal Carteret County, N.C.
Recounts showed Troxler leading by 2,287 votes in the race against incumbent Democrat Britt Cobb. The State Elections Board ordered a new election, just in Carteret County for agriculture commissioner.
Sitting in a recliner with a photo he took with the late Dale Earnhardt, when the legendary NASCAR racer hosted a fundraiser in Troxler's unsuccessful first campaign for ag commissioner in 2000, Troxler is in the mind set of most farmers these days — preparing for the coming growing season.
“Agriculture is in a transition in a lot of different areas,” Troxler says. “The buyout for tobacco growers is probably one of the biggest transition areas. Tobacco, the crop that has been the stabilizing factor is now the least stable.”
Alternating between the present tense and future tense — a reflection of the “strange” election cycle — Troxler talks about what he would do as commissioner of agriculture.
“The first thing I want to do is put in a section that deals with ag policy both in North Carolina and nationally and figure out what we can do to make it better.”
Troxler thinks back to his days at North Carolina State University and the question of one of his professors. “He asked, ‘What's the most important aspect affecting agriculture?”
“You would think ‘weather,’ so everybody said, ‘weather.’ He said, ‘government policy is what determines agriculture's outcome.’”
Troxler took that information into his service as an ag leader. He's served on the boards of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, the North Central Farm Credit Association, and the Guilford County Farm Bureau, among others. He currently serves on the Phase II Entity board of directors.
“We have fought in court to help persuade the judge to see that the withholding of the Phase II payments for 2004 is wrong,” Troxler says. “It creates a cash-flow problem for all farmers, myself included. Phase II payments were essentially figured into the price of tobacco and were meant to continue” until the end of the marketing year, which ends June 31, 2005. “Growers and quota holders were counting on that Phase II money. It creates a cash-flow problem.”
After earning a degree from North Carolina State University in conservation with a concentration in environmental studies, Troxler returned to the Browns Summit community where he was raised, started farming and took his place along other young men in ag leadership.
“I think a person from agriculture can relate to people in agriculture,” Troxler says. “The other strength I have is I communicate with the so-called ‘suits and ties.’”
His vision for leading agriculture in North Carolina focuses on helping farmers in this crisis and transition period. He sees the need to boost the struggling dairy industry in the state, promote agri-tourism, and help save vanishing prime farmland in North Carolina.
“We need more initiatives at the national and state levels to address ways to allow farmers to keep land as farmland,” Troxler says. “We have got to continue to give farmers advantages in order to allow them to keep their land in production.
North Carolina is No. 3 nationally in the loss of prime farmland. I want to help reverse that trend.”
Troxler has had a vision for leading agriculture in North Carolina for most of his adult life.
In the post-buyout period, that vision involves helping farmers in the transition.
He believes that alternative crops could help farmers weather this transition period. He and his wife operated a produce business, selling directly to supermarket chains in Greensboro, N.C., and in a roadside stand.
“Value-added agriculture will be a key to small farming,” he says. “The strength of North Carolina agriculture is its diversity.”