Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Ray Starling, General Counsel for the NC Chamber and President of the NC Chamber Legal Institute via Zoom and filmed an episode of Critical Conversations. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.
The NC Chamber is the leading business advocacy organization in North Carolina. The NC Chamber works in the legislative, regulatory, and political arenas to proactively drive positive change, ensuring that North Carolina is one of the best places in the world to do business.
Starling also has decades of experience related to agriculture and agriculture policy and law. He grew up on a family farm, farming tobacco and was a National FFA Officer and a 4-H member. Starling has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from North Carolina State University and a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In private practice for several years, he taught numerous agricultural and food law courses.
Starling previously served as the principal agriculture advisor to the President of the United States at the White House, served as chief of staff and chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, after serving as general counsel when Tillis was Speaker of the House in the North Carolina legislature, and worked as general counsel for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, interfacing daily with Commissioner Steve Troxler. Prior to joining the NC Chamber team, Starling served as chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue where he coordinated execution of the Secretary’s policy agenda for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Starling focused on regulatory and deregulatory initiatives and acted as a point of contact for stakeholders throughout agriculture and rural communities.
Starling shared how the NC Chamber serves agriculture and agribusiness for North Carolina. He shared that the NC Chamber first and foremost strives for North Carolina to be the best place to do business. Advocate for changes to make North Carolina a better place to do business. He said the NC Chamber strives to be a place for thought leadership where people can get together and have hard conversations about the future of agriculture. NC Chamber Legal Institute provides a way to represent the business community in the court system.
Starling shared some of the biggest challenges in agriculture. He said that the number of people coming to the state creates social tension between farmers and consumers. While there is an increasing interest in what happens in the food industry, there is also a diminishing number of people who produce agricultural products. These two worlds of producer and interested consumer are sometimes at odds. The tension between these two areas presents both an opportunity and a challenge, shared Starling. He also noted the labor challenge is just like it is in every other industry; the agriculture industry needs more workers. He also noted that input costs have risen, causing concern with rising costs in food and profit margins. When talking about the opportunities in agriculture, Starling said where we are technologically is exciting. The problems that technology will solve with commitments to collaborations like the Plant Sciences Initiative and NC Food Innovation Lab.
In thinking about the future of agriculture, Starling noted we need to look at alignment. With the growing population and phenomenal agricultural opportunity, how do we make sure the production, value-add community is aligned to take advantage of all of the opportunities and how do we move forward faster together?
Critical Conversations is a feature in the Golden LEAF newsletter every month. The next edition will be in our November 9th edition of LEAF Lines.