University, farmers support Connect NC bond

Published 7:41 pm Friday, March 11, 2016

By Richard L. Linton and Larry Wooten

Just as agriculture and food production require fertile soil, a bright future for our growing state depends on strong public infrastructure. On March 15, North Carolina voters have a chance to address many of our state’s critical infrastructure needs by approving the Connect NC Bond — and they can do so without raising taxes.

In the 15 years since North Carolina voters cast their ballots on a statewide bond, our state’s population has grown by two million residents. That growth has placed increased demands on our top industry, agriculture, because everyone needs what agriculture provides: safe and affordable food, fiber, fuel and forestry products.

Our agricultural research and laboratory facilities haven’t kept pace with the needs of our farmers and agribusinesses. But with historic agricultural investments made possible through the Connect NC Bond, we have an opportunity to fill the gaps and better prepare for the future by funding two critical projects.

The North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative will provide new opportunities for the state’s farmers and biotechnology industries. Funded in part by the bond and in part by private donations, the Plant Sciences Research Complex would allow NC State University scientists to work side-by-side with industry and government experts on some of the world’s most pressing agricultural challenges. In the process, they will improve crop yields, prepare the next generation of scientists and grow local economies. The project will also grow our state economy, adding up to 32,000 jobs and boost associated economic output by $9.2 billion by 2024.

The second agricultural project is a new co-located laboratory facility for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It is designed to replace five aging facilities that struggle with inadequate ventilation and climate control as well as space limitations, which prevent Department staff from utilizing advanced testing equipment. All of these factors affect the laboratories’ ability to meet the needs of citizens, farmers and businesses. The new laboratory will enhance the Department’s ability to identify foreign animal disease or bioterrorism agents, test international shipments of poultry and livestock, and ensure the safety of food and animal feeds.

North Carolina’s economy depends on a strong agricultural sector. Right now, North Carolina’s farmers and agribusiness generate $76 billion a year and nearly one in five jobs. Our shared goal is a $100-billion-a-year agriculture sector within the next five to 10 years. Connect NC’s investment in these two projects will help our state get there.

Let’s keep North Carolina agriculture growing by supporting the Connect NC bond.

Richard L. Linton is the dean of N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Larry Wooten is the president of N.C. Farm Bureau.