Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Dr. Blake Brown the Hugh C. Kiger Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University via Zoom and filmed an episode of Critical Conversations. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.
Dr. Brown recently returned to North Carolina State University from an assignment as a Senior Economist for the Council of Economic Advisers in the Executive Office of the President where he focused on agricultural policy. He has spent much of his career as a policy analyst working on farm policy, particularly tobacco policy. A major focus was working with policy makers on the $9.6 billion federal tobacco buyout. From 2008-2014 Brown directed efforts at NCSU to help farmers add or expand value-added enterprises. From 2014 – 2018 he served as director of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Commission Agricultural Leadership Development Program.
Dr. Brown also developed the business management program, The Executive Farm Management Program, to fit the unique needs of commercial farms in the southeast. He continues to provide economic analyses for tobacco and peanuts. He has numerous publications and presentations including testimony before the House and Senate committees on agriculture as well as over $5 million in cumulative grant funding. Dr. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Economics from North Carolina State University as well as an M.S. in Agricultural Economics and B.S. in Animal Science.
Approximately 30 years ago, Dr. Brown began working at North Carolina State University. He said that tobacco had a huge impact on the economy of North Carolina. He explained that it was the number one cash crop and the number one farm enterprise. Dr. Brown also said that tobacco accounted for over 1 billion in farm income. Today, he said, North Carolina’s farm economy has grown tremendously with agriculture being much more diversified. He explained that although the tobacco economy has shrunk to about a $500 million industry in the state, it is still one of the top cash crops in North Carolina. He added that about 80% of the United States flue cured tobacco still comes from North Carolina.
The loss of the tobacco economy has made the farmers more diverse, added Dr. Brown. Now poultry and hogs make up almost 70% of farmers’ products and only 30% is coming from crops. He attributes the change not from the decline of tobacco but the diversification and growth of agriculture in North Carolina. Dr. Brown also thinks the Plant Sciences Initiative could play a role in the creating a low nicotine tobacco plant, but the policy that is advocating for this change is also working to eventually eliminate tobacco altogether. Dr. Brown would like to see the Plant Sciences Initiative focus on the continued diversification of crops in the state.
Critical Conversations is a feature in the Golden LEAF newsletter every month. The next edition will be in our February 8th edition.