In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, you will find some of our state’s most beautiful views, a rich and varied farm community and a growing market for agritourism. But even before COVID-19 hit, the region’s small family farmers were struggling. The recent Democratic National Convention speakers made it clear that their hardships have not gone unnoticed, and the path back to prosperity is through addressing — not ignoring — the urgent threat of climate change.
Agriculture has not been immune to the economic crisis created by COVID-19. Almost 80% of farmers in the Southern Appalachian region report decreased sales and overall income loss. Two-thirds say that if this continues, they may have to consider bankruptcy. But even when our farmers recover from the immediate effects of the pandemic, they will still face the much longer-term threat of climate change.
Temperatures across North Carolina will increase 2-5 degrees by 2050 if we do nothing, resulting in increased inability to produce crops — especially in the mountain region, which is more accustomed to lower temperatures — and the potential loss of farms through bankruptcy.
We now have an opportunity to address the root cause of many problems our farming community faces, and the plans laid out by Vice President Biden at the DNC are our best chance at saving our agricultural industry in Western North Carolina and across the state.
We can begin by giving our farmers the tools necessary to compete in the global marketplace long term. Biden’s plan for rural America provides low-cost financing for new equipment, research and development, and support to develop new income streams. It’s not enough to cut farmers a check every time a natural disaster ravages their land. We must build resiliency into our systems, creating jobs and preventing further local environmental damage as we do it.
In Western North Carolina in particular, we can marry the community’s deep love of the land with Biden’s efforts to make American agriculture the world’s first to achieve net-zero emissions. Expanding the Conservation Stewardship Program would allow eco-minded corporations and individuals to contribute to offsetting costs of carbon sequestration on farms.
The future painted at the DNC doesn’t only address climate change — it funds expanded broadband access, works to address racial inequities in agricultural communities and offers solutions to health disparities in rural areas. Still, without a direct and unflinching acknowledgment of the climate crisis, we cannot ensure the future of North Carolina agriculture.
— Jenna Wadsworth
Editor’s note: Wadsworth notes that she is the 2020 Democratic nominee for North Carolina commissioner of agriculture and the youngest woman ever elected to public office in the state. She currently serves on the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.