NC FSA Director to Leave January 20th

NC FSA Director to Leave January 20th

For just over three years, the North Carolina Farm Service Agency has had the most dynamic and involved director in my almost 10 years at Southern Farm Network, and on January 20th, we’ll be saying goodbye to Bob Etheridge.  Today, we visit with Bob about his three years at FSA:

“Well, Rhonda, I appreciate that.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, I’ve had the great privilege of holding a lot of jobs in my lifetime, and this one that’s been a lot of fun because you get to work with not only the people that till the soil, process the food and do the financing for those on the farm, but also just a multitude of people that I’ve had the privilege all through my life, and I’ve seen a lot of change in just the three years and one month that I’ve been here.”

In spite of the current economic slump agriculture is in, Etheridge says he’s still optimistic:

“You know as I came here, a little over three years ago now, one of the things that we were committed to is outreach, reaching out, telling the good story about what farmers do, how hard they work.  Yet, in those three years we’ve seen dramatic changes take place on the farm.  Farm commodity prices have dropped dramatically. 

Truthfully, net cash income is down roughly 36% since 2012, looks like it may drop again this year, and in North Carolina it’s been compounded by two years of too much water in the fall, and drought in the summer down east, and in the west we’ve had drought and fires in the west.  I’m still optimistic, I think people that till the soil are just wonderful folks.”

Etheridge says he expects congress to begin work on the next farm bill this year:

“In North Carolina, so much of our population are just one generation off the farm, and I see as we move forward, congress is going to start looking at how do we prepare a farm bill for ’18, and if they asked me for my advice, I’d say that we really need to look at putting a floor back under many of these commodities. 

The current farm programs were written when commodities were the highest they’ve ever been, and now they’re dropping fast, and one of the challenges many of our people in rural North Carolina and really across the country are going to face this year, is how to get enough money to operate this year, plant a crop and harvest it.”

In just three years, Etheridge says the focus of the consumer has changed somewhat:

“There’s a lot of people in North Carolina, as you know, this ‘know your farmer, know your food’, and farmers’ markets are popping up everywhere, these local folks want to buy fresh produce and know where it comes from. And all you have to do is look at the advertisements in the news and at the organic opportunities that are out there for the small farmers.  Even the major food chains are advertising that.  So, there’s a lot of good things to look forward to, moving forward.”

Etheridge has had many careers, most focused on either education or agriculture, and leaving FSA won’t be easy:

“I have enjoyed it.  I’ve enjoyed the outreach that we’ve done, I came here at a time when outreach was a priority and we have taken it and run with it, and have a great group of folks who’ve worked at it.  I see that as a real positive for us moving forward.”

On Monday, we’ll hear what’s next for Bob Etheridge on Today’s Topic.'

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.