Don't pull the plug! Trust Fund key to N.C. agriculture's future

A battle over the state budget in North Carolina may cost agriclture dearly.

The North Carolina House’s version of the state budget proposes to permanently eliminate the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, redirecting the money to cover a budget shortfall.

Roland McReynolds, executive director  of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, writes that the name of the fund doesn’t describe the breadth of work it supports in the state's agriculture industry. He writes on the Mountain Xpress website:

The Tobacco Trust Fund doesn’t operate as a subsidy to former tobacco farmers: It makes grants, not direct payments. Those grants enable farmers to risk investing in new, unproven technologies. The lessons learned from the grants are then shared with the rest of the state’s farming community, allowing North Carolina’s agriculture industry to grow and adapt faster than it otherwise would.

... Moving N.C.‘s agricultural economy away from a lucrative cash crop like tobacco toward new high-value crops and markets is a challenge that the state’s farmers have met with determination, creativity — and the help of the Tobacco Trust Fund. As a result, N.C. is recognized as a national leader in both local-food markets and diversified, small-scale agriculture. If we lose the Tobacco Trust Fund, we will lose opportunities to continue to innovate and lead the nation.

The Rural Advancement Institute, which awards some of the Tobacco Fund grants, shares the stories of some of the reipients in an audio series. Listen here.

The NC budget proposal also would eliminate a separate  Health and Wellness Trust Fund, which finances youth anti-smoking and anti-obesity efforts

The Winston-Salem Journal in an editorial notes that the fund has averaged $30 million in grants aimed at improving public health and calls the proposal "penny-wise and pound-foolish:"

For a very long time, North Carolina has produced and sold tobacco to the world and to its citizens. We've profited immensely from it. Now that it is absolutely certain that tobacco causes major health problems, this state owes it to its citizens to both help them cease smoking and to educate their children on the dangers of smoking.

When the state budget is this tight, it is totally understandable that every program takes a cut. But it is totally irresponsible to entirely gut this trust fund, especially considering the genesis of the tobacco settlement — an effort to reduce smoking by exposing its dangers.

This budget cut would cost us for generations to come.