Carolina Democracy

N.C. Agriculture: Lack of Infrastructure & Failure of Leadership

March 25, 2024 JD Wooten Season 3 Episode 11
N.C. Agriculture: Lack of Infrastructure & Failure of Leadership
Carolina Democracy
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Carolina Democracy
N.C. Agriculture: Lack of Infrastructure & Failure of Leadership
Mar 25, 2024 Season 3 Episode 11
JD Wooten

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Dr. Sarah Taber, candidate for N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture. We had a wide-ranging chat about her background, education, work in the agriculture industry, North Carolina’s agricultural prospects and how we can get even more out of our farms for everyone’s benefit, and so much more. We also kicked off the episode with some highlights of recent polling for the 2024 election.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Dr. Sarah Taber, candidate for N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture. We had a wide-ranging chat about her background, education, work in the agriculture industry, North Carolina’s agricultural prospects and how we can get even more out of our farms for everyone’s benefit, and so much more. We also kicked off the episode with some highlights of recent polling for the 2024 election.

Learn More About Sarah Taber:

Contact Us:

Follow Us:

Support the Show.

Sarah Taber: I look at our farm sector and I look at how farmers are constrained and what they can grow by our lack of infrastructure. That is a failure of leadership. That is why we're not making as much money as we should in agriculture. And that's why folks are dropping out. 

[music transition]

JD Wooten: Welcome to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today we’ve got another terrific state-wide candidate as a guest, Dr. Sarah Taber, the Democratic nominee for Commissioner of Agriculture. We had a wide-ranging chat about her background, education, work in the agriculture industry, North Carolina’s agricultural prospects and how we can get even more out of our farms for everyone’s benefit, and so much more. In fact, Dr. Taber indulged my curiosity so much that we actually recorded for over an hour. For everyone glancing at the time stamp right now, don’t worry, you’re not about to hear an hour of us talking about strategies for maximizing crop yields. 

That said, we did go down a few rabbit holes that I’m sure a lot of people would find fascinating so we’ll likely release a longer version as a bonus, extended interview some time later this year. Why am I telling you about that now? Simple – when you see Dr. Sarah Taber’s name come up again in the future, don’t skip over the episode thinking it’s just a repeat. It won’t be.

We also took to heavy editing of the interview because we really thought we have a lot to discuss in terms of another subject we’ve been promising for a while – polling updates. Well, something changed Friday, hopefully for the better, that has me dramatically rethinking the topic. First, let me tell you a little personal experience on polling.

When I ran for state senate in 2020, we ended up being the closest state senate race that didn’t flip a district. That distinction is important because the only other race that was closer, we actually lost the seat as it went from Democratic to Republican. So of all the target races Democrats were hoping to pick up in 2020, we came the closest. We lost by about 4.5 points. We also ended up having a $2.3 million budget for that race, so we were quite lucky to have a lot of quality polling along the way. We put our first poll in the field in July I believe, and when the results came back, I was shocked. In this state senate district, which Donald Trump had carried by 12 points in 2016, we were up by several points. I remember telling my team that I didn’t care, we were going to run like we were down 20, and we did. 

As the campaign unfolded, my opponent basically stuck to only negative attack ads, most of which were outlandish false accusations that were as absurd as accusing me of felony loan fraud and killing kids with cancer. I’m not kidding here, go look it up, I’m sure that nonsense is still on the internet somewhere. Anyways, we took a slight dip in the polling initially, although we never lost the lead, and then as we pushed back, filed a defamation lawsuit, had lots of press coverage highlighting my opponents lies, and so forth, we actually started increasing our lead. By the time early voting started we were polling at something like a five-point advantage over my opponent. Other target state senate races were polling at dead even, meaning they could be anyone’s race. We went into that night really, truly believing that it was possible control of the state senate was going to flip.

Well, as we all know in hindsight, the polls in North Carolina were all wrong. And not by just a little. Races that we thought were safe flips to Republicans. Races like my where we thought it might be as much as a five-point lead ended up a losing by almost five points. And those other toss-up races were actually double-digit losses.

I say all that not to relive some glory days, trust me, I just assume not spend much time thinking about all of that, plus it wasn’t exactly glorious. But my point is this – take polls for what they are, a snap shot in time that reflects the preferences of those who happened to be polled. If pollsters ask the wrong questions, or ask the wrong people, the results won’t be reflective of actual election outcomes. That played a huge roll in 2020 when nearly every pollster underestimated Republican turnout by double digits. That was the difference right there. 

 Attitudes also change, in both directions, as campaigns unfold. We saw that in my race. If the election had occurred the week after I was accused of a federal felony and, probably killing kids with cancer, before I had time to respond, I’d have lost by a lot more. If the race had happened in the summer, before any money was spent, I’d have lost by little less. And ultimately, I lost by a lot less because we had time to respond and show the world how unhinged and unethical my opponent was. Now, gerrymandering ultimately still won, but that’s a topic for another day. 

Regardless of whether the absolute numbers were right in our 2020 polling, the trends probably were correct, and so that’s what I look to the most in polling these days, and that brings us back to the 2024 polling and why my plan to dig into these polls has shifted a bit in the last few weeks. Since Joe Biden delivered the State of the Union, we begun to see more and more polls with him actually leading Donald Trump. Not by much, but the amounts aren’t as important as the trends, especially this far out. And the trend is positive.

So what happened Friday that has me rethinking things? Well, the Economist keeps a running poll average the top polls, and for the first time in years, the polling averages flipped to Biden being in the lead. Is this good news? Of course. He wasn’t leading in the polling averages and now he is. Polling averages are far more reliable than any given poll, and this is showing that not only have there been 6 major polls out since State of the Union with Biden in the lead, but the average of the top polls is showing the same thing. And that’s where I’m going to stop, contrary to my earlier plan to dive into the polls on Biden versus Trump, because the exact number doesn’t matter and it will change. And, like my reaction to my first poll in 2020, I’m convinced the only correct response is to say well that’s nice, but let’s assume it’s wrong and run like we’re 20 points down. Anything less than that is a risk to our democracy. But, it’s ok to breath a little sigh of relief, recognize that the current approach seems to be working, and that things are moving the right direction. Now we just keep that up for seven more months.

Also, I’ll hit on North Carolina specifically because the numbers aren’t as great here and a good reminder we have to keep fighting like hell. A recent Marist poll shows Trump up over Biden 51/48 with only 1% undecided. It’s insane that only 1% of voters are undecided this far out from an election, but then again, we don’t have a good comparison for a current president facing off for a second time against the former president. These two candidates are as well known as it gets, and so the old playbook of introducing yourself and framing your opponent to voters is out the window. Voters know who Biden and Trump are, now they just have to make a decision between them. Seems like a simple decision to me, but as of right now 51% of North Carolinians disagree with me and that’s concerning.

On the brighter side, Josh Stein is leading Mark Robinson 49/47 with 3% undecided. Interestingly, Robinson appears to have the higher name ID at the moment, and it’s not helping him as he has a net negative favorability of 3 points, meaning 3% more people have an unfavorable view of him than the percent of people who view him variably. Stein by contrast has a 14% net positive favorability, which is great. Even better, Stein is sitting on a major campaign war chest advantage and that will allow him to do a lot with that campaign cash to frame himself favorably while just putting Robinson’s own inflammatory remarks on repeat so that North Carolinian’s get sick and tired of hearing his bigoted remarks. And maybe the state-wide campaigns will find a good way to tie all the MAGA extremists together, with Michele Morrow leading the way in her calls to execute former President Obama.

So, while the story in North Carolina isn’t great on the Biden/Trump front at the moment, further down the ballot things look acceptable, especially if we pretend we’re 20 points down in every race and fight like hell to pick up every single seat we can at the council of state on down. And on that note, let’s transition to one of those excellent candidates looking to unseat a multiterm incumbent and flip the Commissioner of Agriculture seat from red to blue, Dr. Sarah Taber. Hope you enjoy! 

[music transition]

JD Wooten: With us today is Dr. Sarah Tabor, the Democratic nominee for North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture. Welcome to the show. 

Sarah Taber: Thank you. Thanks for having me. It's good to be here. 

JD Wooten: Absolutely. So first question, what's your earliest memory of politics? 

Sarah Taber: Well, I grew up in a pretty conservative family, actually. So it was just always in the air. We'll say that. 

JD Wooten: Well so then going back to the background, you grew up in a military family, a little all over, but family ties to Harlan County, Kentucky, as I understand it. You had a variety of jobs in field, garment shop, factory jobs to pay for school. The first of which was even over in Iowa. So I'm really curious, kind of all that background, how did that affect your thinking on agricultural policy today?

Sarah Taber: Sure. Yeah. So grew up in a military family, so we were moving all over the place, right? You don't have a home acreage when you're in the military, right? So, we would garden as much as we could. And I also grew up working other people's farms, which is a little bit of a unique experience for people of the Caucasian persuasion and agriculture, right? I think we typically think of farm work as a Latino job, and that's in many ways, not inaccurate, but I think also some folks can get an idea of, if someone who is not like that tells you they grew up as a farm worker, they've got to be making something up. 

My 1st job actually was at 14 detasseling corn in Iowa. That was, I think, one of the last farm jobs that was really like, local high school kids doing the job. And at that point, actually, I discovered halfway through the season that I was one of the only kids on the crew who was getting paid because the rest of them were there doing community service for juvenile court. 

Kept working a lot of dirty jobs just working other people's farms, garment shops factories, like you said, just took gig work to pay the bills, really. Again, grew up pretty working class. My family, like, both my parents worked. I think there's a little bit of a fiction that women only used to start working outside the home pretty recently. That is for upper class women. If you're not in that kind of family situation, your mom always worked, right?

So that's who we were, and my parents were pretty proud of it. They said, listen, you're not too good to do any job. You do what you have to do to pay the bills, and you get as much education as you possibly can so that when you go to work, you're actually making some money and can support yourself and your family, right? 

So, like, both hard work and education were very emphasized. And so I was able to fortunately be able to work my way through undergrad and then also through crop science school. Got myself a doctorate in crop science, and the whole time I was doing that I was continuing to work farm, field, and other jobs and the advantage I think of working on a lot of different farms in a lot of different parts of the country is you see a lot of different ways that people do it. You get a lot of exposure to a lot of different approaches, and you learn really quickly that it's one thing to be able to grow a great yield of cross or a great herd of livestock. It's a whole different thing to make money doing it. That's a different layer right on top of that, right? 

So you have to have the technical excellence and you also have to have some of that, you have to be oriented towards doing it as a business. And I think when people hear agriculture as a business, their mind instantly goes to, ah, factory farms. There's actually a lot of other ways to make a living for yourself in agriculture that are not that right. And so what I wound up doing was you can't tell farmers what to do. Especially if you're their employee, can't do that. But, what you can do is you can say, I saw somebody do this thing once, and seemed to work out for them. Want to try it?

So I started kind of sharing that information that I was seeing on other farms and what they were doing that was effective for them financially. Started sharing that with my future employers, right? And one thing led to another, and next thing I knew between that and my crop science training, I was running a consulting business, helping folks make a better living off of their own properties. So that's a long winded way of saying, I just worked my way up and got as much training as I could and made myself useful, right?

And I will say track record wise, all of my clients are still in business, which is weird in agriculture. And between like the small family farms that I worked with and the small food businesses, between those two kinds of operations, my clients are all now worth $4 billion with a B. So when I say there is opportunity in rural areas that we are not going after, I know what I'm talking about. And I will go up against anybody in North Carolina on that track record of success. 

JD Wooten: Wow. So, working backwards through some of that, well, first off, let's just say being an attorney working with businesses on a regular basis right now, I will say even the track record of, everyone you work with still being in business, that's not a phenomenal track record for agriculture, that's a phenomenal track record for anybody trying to earn an income. Nobody bats a thousand in business. That's not the way it works. So, kudos there. That's amazing.

Sarah Taber: Yeah, I think it helps that if you're an operation that's really looking to do well enough for yourself that you're willing to bring someone else to help you figure it out, you're already thinking well enough ahead for yourself that that probably helps a little bit. 

JD Wooten: Absolutely. I did want to ask a little more about your background and your professional training because when I was preparing, I saw that one of your degrees is Doctor of Plant Medicine from the University of Florida, and I'll go ahead and confess I'm not very familiar with that so maybe for my benefit and perhaps a couple of our listeners are in the same position tell us more about that and that study and and and how that ties into what you're doing now?

Sarah Taber: Yeah, don't feel bad It's a weird new degree. They made up about 20. I think maybe 30 years ago at this point So that's that's not on you in agriculture it's a weird thing, right? So if you're, if you're a person and you're sick, you go to a doctor. That's an MD, right? If you have an animal that's sick, you take them to a veterinarian. But we didn't have anything like that for crops. We had people who got PhDs in entomology, PhDs in plant disease and PhDs in fertilizer, right? But we didn't have anybody who was just a doctor for crops. If you have a crop problem, or if you want to grow a healthy crop and prevent problems from starting in the first place, there was no medical professional for plants and crops. And so some folks just got together and said, we should, we should make that be a thing, right? So that's the DPM. So we have MD. It's a medical doctor. DVM is doctor of veterinary medicine. DPM is doctor of plant medicine. So it's, it's just a veterinarian for crops.

JD Wooten: I love it. And I mean, it speaks to so many of the issues, so yeah, why wouldn't we have that? That makes a lot of sense. So thank you for elaborating on that a little bit. And 

Sarah Taber: Yeah, I always tell people don't feel bad. It's actually weird. it's not you being behind. it's actually weird. Don't worry. 

JD Wooten: Well, that's not usually the answer, but I appreciate it today. So, aside from running from office, you're coaching farms and you mentioned a little of this, your current clients, helping them develop sustainable business practices or find ways to turn what they're doing into either profitable or more profitable business ventures. I'm curious, what are some of the kind of common problems that you see challenging your clients and those in the agriculture industry, especially here in North Carolina?

Sarah Taber: Sure. Yeah, I would say the number one is one that folks have probably heard of quite a bit. You'll always hear folks in agriculture talking about farmers are not getting paid enough for their crops and they never really explained why that's happening, right? They don't talk about how and why. There's a lot of folks, and that includes in the agriculture sector, that take it for granted that everybody in a given region is going to grow the same five crops. We're all going to grow the same things and we're all going to try to maximize our yield. Well, what's going to happen when you do that? There's going to be piles and piles and piles of it of those same five things. And then the price drops. It happens every year, should not be a surprise to anybody by this point, right? Even at a farmer's market, you'll see that, there's no tomatoes, no tomatoes, no tomatoes. And then August hits and it's tomatoes everywhere and everybody's flooded in tomatoes. And if you have tomatoes a couple of weeks early, you can get a good price. But by the time August comes along, everybody's got them and the price just plummets, right? So even at a small scale, we see this happening. And we've been doing agriculture in this country for how many hundreds of years, and we still act surprised every single season. 

JD Wooten: I was going to say, this sounds like a problem that's, I don't know, roughly as old as agriculture itself. What's that, 10,000 years?

Sarah Taber: Yeah, I mean, when you have subsistence farming, it kind of makes sense for people to be growing similar portfolios of things. If you're all growing, like, wheat and peas for your own consumption, everybody's got to grow their own wheat and peas, right? But if you're living in a region where you're mostly doing export destinated crops, right? If you're growing tobacco for export, you're growing cotton for export, this is something that is quite known in the agricultural community, and yet folks keep treating it like a surprise. And so if you have a region where everybody's growing the same two, three, four, five things, none of us are going to make money. This is known. This is a problem that has been with us for hundreds of years. This should be understood by this point. 

And so nonetheless, in most parts of the United States, you will see most people in agriculture growing the same two, three, maybe five things. So, if you look at anywhere in the world, where lots of people are making a decent living in agriculture, they're always growing 20 or 30 or 50 different types of crops, right? So, we're talking about New Zealand, the Netherlands, California. These are places where they're growing a lot of different kinds of crops. Then you look at Iowa. It's corn, soy, hogs, chickens. North Carolina it's corn, soy, cotton, tobacco, hogs and chickens. So we've got a couple extra things, but it's not enough to balance out an entire state, right? So we've been doing agriculture in this way for decades, if not centuries, and then keep acting surprised every single year when it turns out the same way.

So, back during World War II some folks were trying to make sure that our airplanes weren't getting shot down as much, right? So, what they did was when planes came back, they mapped out where the bullet holes were on the plane to help them find out where to put more armor. Where do you think they put the armor? Where they saw more bullet holes? No, because planes that were getting shot there came back. You put the extra armor where you never see bullet holes because planes are getting shot there are not making it back. 

So that's the approach I was trying to teach my clients to use was, don't grow what everybody else is already growing. Grow what you don't see. Grow what's going to grow well in your area. Expand your, your vision a little bit past your immediate area. Look at other places in the country that have a similar climate to you. What are they growing that you could grow here? Grow what everybody else around you is not growing. That is your key to success.

JD Wooten: Well, that sounds like phenomenal background then to be running the campaign you're running. And so now I want to shift to that part a little bit more. You are running to be our next Commissioner of Agriculture. I'm curious, the obvious question, what led you to decide to run, and this year in particular? 

Sarah Taber: Yeah, well, that background that we talked about, where I kept finding that, my clients were running the same issues over and over again. I was working with people one on one to fix that one farm at a time. So it was great for those individual farmers, but the region they were in was still mostly just growing the same few things. So you can help a few individual people at a time, but the overall economic outlook for the region was still not good. And so I just kind of saw that in order to really address that issue of farm revenue not being very good, you got to think a little bit bigger and that's something that a Commissioner of Agriculture should be doing. 

So I can give you a good example of a thing a Commissioner of Agriculture could and should do that we haven't really seen happening here in the state. Okay, so I'm going to give you a crop that would grow really well in North Carolina. Everybody raise your hand if you like Nutella. One of the main ingredients is hazelnuts. Traditionally hazelnuts are grown in very dry areas, Turkey, eastern Washington, big source of those. However, in the last few decades there's also a relative of the hazelnut that lives here in the eastern United States. It has more disease resistance. So it can handle the humidity out here. So within the last few decades, scientists crossbred these two, and we have disease resistant hazelnuts that taste really good.

That being said, this crop has not really been picked up in much of the eastern United States. Folks in North Carolina, I think are really struggling because we've been growing tobacco here as a mainstay for about 400 years. So when we talk about that mindset of you want to do what your neighbors are doing, everybody's been growing tobacco for 400 years. And so if everybody's making their money on one crop, again, the idea of doing something different from your neighbors is very, very scary. So, so no one wants to be the first to try a new crop here, so that's one reason we aren't growing hazelnuts here.

Another reason is we don't have anywhere in this state that can shell them and roast them and grind them up and turn them into butter, right? So again, like, one reason that we have not really gotten into hazelnuts in this state, even though they're a good fit, both economically and just weather wise, one is people are afraid they don't want to be the first one to try it.

And number two, you could plant them, you could wait the five years for them to start making nuts, but then what do you do with them? Because in order to get from a hazelnut in the field to a jar of hazelnut butter or hazelnut milk or Nutella, if you get hazelnuts, they come in a shell, right? You have to have some kind of mechanized equipment to bust that shell off at scale. You have to be able to do tons a day to really do a worthwhile amount of hazelnut industry. So we have nowhere to do that. My understanding is the closest facility in the US to do that is still getting built, and it's in Ohio. So you could plant hazelnuts here. You could wait the five years for them or so to start bearing, harvest them all, put them in a rail car, send them up to Ohio, as soon as they get halfway to Ohio, the amount that it costs to ship them to Ohio is more than what the nuts themselves are worth. And so the reason we don't have a hazelnut industry here, probably I would say the key one is just logistical bottleneck. We don't have anywhere to process them. So we, we say we say farm to table, right? The word too is doing a lot of work there. 

JD Wooten: No kidding. Yeah. 

Sarah Taber: There's a few things you can pull out of the ground and eat them, but most, most foods that grow, you have to do something to them to make them edible. Like wheat, you have to mill it into flour. So there's a lot of different steps between field and food, right? With a cow, I mean, walk on up to a cow and take a bite out of her and let me know how it works out for you, right? There's, there's a few steps there between farm and food. 

JD Wooten: I was literally just thinking about the cow example. I was like, do I even want to go there? Like I could have a cow and maybe I could get some milk, but I'm a long way from having a filet.

Sarah Taber: Correct. Yeah. There's, there's a few steps going in there and that's really where I think we're, we're missing out in North Carolina. So the hazelnuts example is there, but just about every food product in the state, we don't have the processing capacity to handle it here. So we have a few things, we have feed mills. We have a couple small flour mills for specialty flour. We've got a few meat plants. I think we have a few small scale dairies that are bottling their own milk. They're making their own cheese and ice cream on site, but it's very rare. We don't have a lot of like big capacities so lots of farmers can plug into that. And that is why we're only growing two or three or five things in the state. We have feed mills for corn and soy. We have every farm that grows tobacco has got its own curing sheds. So we've got a system for turning that into a product and we've got chicken and hog slaughter houses. That's about it. So what we are growing in this state, It's not determined by what grows well here. It's determined by what we have the handling capacity for, because just about anything you can grow in North Carolina. We have the climate zone to grow almost anything in the state. The thing, holding us back. The reason we grow lots and lots of raw commodities, but almost no groceries in the state is handling infrastructure full stop. 

And so, to me, that's exactly where Commissioner of Agriculture should intervene, right? This is something that's a lot bigger than individual farms can handle. And we see this in every other industry. If we want to have an automobile industry in the state, what do we do? We go talk to auto manufacturers and we say, hey, what kind of workforce development programs do you need? What kind of tax situation you need? What kind of electrical hookups do you need at an industrial site to make it worth it for you to come here? We invest in that industry. And we've done that for every single industry, but not agriculture. And that's why North Carolina is lagging behind.

We've had somebody in office here for 20 years who's not doing that. It is what it is. And we see the funding in the Agriculture Department going down and down and down. There's basic services that farmers and other states take for granted that we are not doing here. And that is why North Carolina is leading the country in farmland loss to development. It's because folks here are making enough money farming because we're really constricted as to what we can practically grow because of those logistical bottlenecks because we're not investing in industry.

And so I, I see the amount of development we have here in North Carolina framed as, oh, the population is growing so fast. Oh, the cities are big and bad and they're coming up to get us. Most states are having population growth. We're the only ones leading the country in farmland lost to development. There's something else going on here. And I look at our farm sector and I look at how farmers are constrained and what they can grow by our lack of infrastructure. That is a failure of leadership. That is why we're not making as much money as we should in agriculture. And that's why folks are dropping out. 

JD Wooten: Maybe that's a good segue then. A lot of people in North Carolina probably don't even realize the average voter that we have an elected commissioner of agriculture. So I'm curious, in your mind. What is it that the Department of Agriculture and especially your role once you're elected as Commissioner of Agriculture, like the responsibilities and duties of that office and that department, what can and should that department and that position be doing for the people of North Carolina and especially the agriculture industry?

Sarah Taber: Sure, yeah. So, like, we just talked about, right? We should be treating agriculture like any other industry. If we say, hey, we want to have an automotive industry here. What do we do? We talk to automotive companies and we say, what do you need in terms of workforce? What kind of training programs do you need? What kind of electrical and wastewater hookups do you need a site? We'll also talk some tax incentives. What do you guys need to make it worthwhile for you to do business here? That's how we treat every other industry. We just have not approached agriculture like that. 

I don't know if that's a mindset issue. We just think agriculture, it's supposed to grow organically out of the ground. No, every industry is something you to nurture, right? There's a certain extent to like, yeah, individual business players in agriculture and automotive manufacturing have to do their own work, but none of them are really working alone. There's always policy that goes into making sure we have robust industry here and a lot of other states. Are doing that and have been doing that. We don't see that here in North Carolina. 

So the easy answer is just do that, just play that active role. Look around North Carolina, identify what are business sectors we could really thrive in in agriculture. 

We also need to see the need to step up. We can't keep doing things the way we've been doing. And we're going to have to try some new things. We're going to have to invest in ways that we've never done out here before. So it takes leadership to do that. And, yeah, it takes people who just understand the process of working farmers through, this is what we've all been doing, but this is what we could have. You need people who have experience taking people through that process, not just the, the logistical, cold hard fact side of it, but also the emotional side. Like, there's a lot of fear when it comes to doing something new. You have to have people who know both sides of that equation. And because I've been working with farmers for so long, I'm getting from point A to point B, I think I'm in a really good position to do that. 

JD Wooten: So I know that you've put forward a plan on what you think we could do to take North Carolina to potentially double or even triple what our farms can earn. You want to share a little with our listeners about that plan and how you think we can get North Carolina to that next level in terms of what our agriculture industry can be doing? 

Sarah Taber: Sure. All right. So we're going to talk numbers a little bit. So forgive me everybody. Yeah. So kind of our, our mainstay crop here in North Carolina, our top two crops in terms of acreage are soybeans and corn. So corn and soybeans are crops that can make you $400 to $800 an acre. Then you have to pay all of your expenses out of that. You have to pay your equipment loan. You have to pay for seed, fertilizer, all of that stuff that you used to grow it comes out of $400 to $800 an acre. So you don't have a ton of wiggle room in terms of like how much you can spend growing that crop.

Then you go to crops like tobacco. Tobacco can make you $4,000 an acre, which is a lot better than four to eight hundred, right? So you can see why a lot of folks around here get really, really excited about tobacco, right? It's making, , five to ten times as much money per acre. Not hard to see what the appeal is.

However strawberries and tomatoes can make you forty to sixty thousand dollars an acre. And when you have to have , when you have crops to make a lot more money that are also more intensive to produce, it takes a little bit more time, tools, equipment, people. That means you're also building more of an economy. That means there's more jobs. It means there's more roles for suppliers in that area, right?

So, there's two places it really helps an economy. Number one, the landowner is making a ton more money, so you can keep up with land prices. As development comes closer, your taxes go up. If you're making more money farming, you can keep farming, despite higher land prices.

JD Wooten: So North Carolina has really got to break that mold of just being so attached to the old crops of the soy, cotton, tobacco, etc., and looking at that diversification of the crops and what we can do. And because we have, what is it, we're over 600 miles from one end to the other and that just enormous delta. I mean, we got Christmas trees on one end and we've got the ocean on the other. And there's just so much in between in terms of the diversity that we could be doing. So, what I'm hearing is that a big part of your push is going to be to help lead the charge on that transition to make it a more profitable and sustainable part of the North Carolina economy. And that in doing so, a second or third order benefit happens to be a lot of additional economic growth in and around those areas, not just for the people that own the land or that are doing the direct farming, but all the support structure that goes with that as well. 

Sarah Taber: Yeah, exactly. And also the way to do that is not just telling farmers they should do something different, right? Because the barrier is we don't have that infrastructure. Again, you can plant hazelnuts here, but what's the point? Right? That's that's a failure of leadership. That's not individual farmers failing to have good ideas. That is, we do not have the infrastructure. That is something bigger than individual farms. And so, I think typically when we try to get agriculture to change, we've approached it from, we should tell farmers to do something better. We should tell them to do it differently, right? And that, that's just not very effective. Farmers tend to be pretty good at working with whatever infrastructure we've already got. And so if you want something to change in agriculture, you need to work on infrastructure. If there's opportunities to grow hazelnuts, because there's processing capacity now, people will plant it. So that's that's really the two things is number one, knowing that we need to change, knowing that we have specific directions it would be good to go. And then number three, knowing how to actually lead that. It is not by lecturing people. It's actually making it logistically possible to do that. And then, of course, we have to have some conversations about like, okay, now there's capacity. Why would hazelnuts make sense for you personally, as a grower, but until that capacity is in place, there's no point in having those conversations. So that is a leader's job, is not just to talk, but to do the work.

JD Wooten: That makes a lot of sense. I do want to be sensitive of your time because you do have a statewide campaign to run. Most important question of the day. Where can people go to learn more about you and your campaign?

Sarah Taber: That's a great question. It is That's There's information on plans for once in office. There's information on who I am, where I came from, information on how everybody in North Carolina can benefit from this, not just folks in the rural areas and there's merch, there's t shirts, yard signs, etc.. So come and get it, it's good. 

JD Wooten: Well, Dr. Taber thank you so much for joining us today, it's been a real pleasure. 

Sarah Taber: Of course. Thanks for having me. This has been fun.

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JD Wooten: Thanks again to everyone for listening today. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, send me an email at And as always, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!


Interview with Sarah Taber
Closing Notes