Agriculture Secretary Steve Troxler speaks to local farmers.
By Pete Zamplas- State Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler endorsed Nathan Ramsey and Tim Moffitt and other GOP state representatives for their reelection, joining to jab overzealous environmentalism with verbal pitchforks in the Farmers Supporting Farmers political rally last week.
The rally Thursday evening was in the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, bringing together Buncombe and Henderson county farmers and politicians. Ramsey’s reelection campaign paid for the barbecue-chicken dinner, in the Virginia Boone Building. The diary farmer-attorney-statesmen hosted the 200-person rally.
Commissioner Troxler said “We have real good agricultural leadership” under new GOP statewide rule, to help farmers “thrive” better amidst recession and reduction in commodity pricing. He said $2.5 million budgeted for this year and next will “modernize” the area agricultural research station. “We cannot afford to be beat” in the election Nov. 4, he said. Troxler is among merely two Republican central administrators on the Council of State.
Troxler said laws outdo weather in affecting farmers. “These people will craft laws that are gonna kill us (farmers), or help us,” he said. He blamed Democrat environmentalism, such in restricting brewers’ grain. He said the pending federal Food Safety Modernization Act prompts strict Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules for grain byproduct of brewing beer. He said compliance costs will “cut out a lot of feed.” He said the trap is brewers’ grain standards are geared for human consumption, even for grain used to feed cattle.
“North Carolina is the lead state” in challenging this ruling, via a national agriculture trade association, Troxler said. He suggests on such issues, “let’s mold something that everyone can live with.”
State Rep. Nathan Ramsey talks about farm issues.
Rep. Ramsey explained to The Tribune the rule aims to reduce health hazards of over-storing brewers’ grain. Yet dairy farmer Ramsey said that in this area with its many breweries, brewer’s grain is readily available and farmers use it quickly and safely to feed cattle. “The key to wet brewer’s grain is to feed it quickly,” Ramsey said. “Don’t let it sit there. Or mold will form. The micro-toxins can make cows more susceptible to disease, and affects their ability to milk and to breed.”
Farmers loom as collateral damage, Ramsey warned. “If this FDA rule goes through, it effectively negates the competitive advantage of farmers close to craft breweries.” He said “breweries have to landfill this stuff, or else spend a lot of money handling it. They’d have to dry it down, package it, etc. They won’t recapture their costs. They’d get little money selling it, as a byproduct. Their advantage now is to get it off their hands. A side benefit is they generate stick grains, that can be used for livestock.” He said such regulations unreasonably “burden farmers.”
N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten noted a balance of farm labor interests against tougher clamps on illegal immigrants, such as requiring photo identification cards to vote starting in 2016. He pointed to the Reclaim N.C. Act (House Bill 786). Its controversial Section 9 allows issuing restricted N.C. driver’s permits to undocumented residents, partly to regulate illegal aliens already driving.
A pro-farming HB 786 clause is one Wooten hailed area state legislators for helping secure. Employees must screen new employees’ citizenship online in E-Verify, but not for seasonal workers working for them less than nine months of of the year. This is much briefer than the prior three-month “seasonal” definition.
This exemption got a mixed reaction from Henderson County apple farmers at the rally, who spoke to The Tribune. Some praised it as a major step. Kenny Barnwell, for one, called it a mere “band aid.” He is among apple farmers wanting greater legal relief for more year-round employees, perhaps in structured amnesty for longtime workers. Barnwell said his crew works year-round. He said his tree pruning began Nov. 22, lasted through winter and is still ongoing.
Jeff Nix and his son Jerred Nix, among others, see a migrant labor shortage and rising pay demands arising from states’ tougher immigration laws. They said the current Florida orange crop thus was cut, by 15 percent. Jeff runs Wayne Nix and Sons Farms. Jerred is newly-elected Blue Ridge Farm Growers Association president.
Another pro-farmer measure, Wooten noted, is a sales tax exemption effective July 1 for farmers grossing $10,000 or more annually. The exemption is for buying equipment, feed, seed, chemicals, fertilizer, vaccines, fuel and electricity. Such costs have skyrocketed for cattle farmers far beyond prices secured for beef or milk, Ramsey noted to The Tribune.
Troxler wants more than the current $1.8 million (over four times less than in similarly-populated Ohio) in the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, to help working family farms stay in business.
Agriculture and “agribusiness” have grown to over $80 billion annually in North Carolina, Troxler said. He called farming “the engine that drives the economy,” as the state’s top sector and nearly four times as lucrative as the runner-up (military facilities).
Senate Rules Committee Chr. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville) urged voters to return local GOP legislators to Raleigh. “We work well as a team,” Apodaca said. House Rep. Chris Whitmire (R-Rosman) attended the rally. Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Flat Rock) was in committee, in Raleigh.
Ramsey called Moffitt a “big friend of agriculture.” Moffitt was ranked as second most business-friendly state legislator, by the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation. He was chief architect of the pivotal Tax Reform and Regulatory Reform.
Moffitt is in his second term. His District 116 is mostly outside Asheville limits. Moffitt solely sponsored a law that prevents involuntary annexation by cities, unless approved by referendum. His bills loosened Asheville’s grip on the area public water system (switching it to the Metropolian Sewerage District) and Asheville Regional Airport board. In the latest session, Moffitt was primary sponsor of 96 bills. More than a third of them (38) passed.
State Rep. Tim Moffitt addresses the crowd.
Moftitt sees an “urban-rural divide” of legislative interests, and thus need for rural lawmakers to band together. He said an “entrenched bureaucracy” figures it can “wait you out, dragging its feet and hoping you won’t win reelection.”
Moffitt, 48, founded his Moffitt Inter. executive search and management consulting firm 28 years ago; its clients are in 27 countries. He has wrestled for West Henderson High School, now among Raleigh legislators for property rights and other causes.
Moffitt said of Ramsey (District 117), “no one works harder” in the State House. Ramsey was chairman of Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, for eight years. He sponsored state bills for higher education training, to help farmers and other small businesses, to help get GE Aviation into Buncombe County, and to expedite building the I-26 Connector.
Ramsey is an “absolute gem of a legislator” already as a freshmen, House Rules Committee Chr. Tim Moore (R-Kings Mtn.) said at the rally. He said Ramsey “worked tirelessly” on bills, has “one of the best reputations,” and is “a Renaissance man. He’s a lawyer, and a farmer.”
Ramsey, 45, has a law degree from Tennessee. He has farmed for half of his life, since 1992 when he and brother Bart bought 70 cattle from Fred Pittillo who shifted to Turf Mountain Sod. Bart runs the 170-cow diary. Their father Roy farmed. Their grandfather Nathan Pinkney (“N.P.”) Ramsey ran a dairy in Fletcher. Nathan and Robin Ramsey live in Fairview.