Regional Agriculture Program Hopes to Boost Opportunities
Melissa Hall Ix has been hired as director of the Regional Agriculture Sustainability Program (RASP), which recently received a $203,100 grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
The program is designed to help the agricultural community take optimal advantage of the opportunities presented by population growth in the area.
Ix intends to assist former tobacco growers in serving the growing population at Fort Bragg by linking the food, fuel and fiber needs of Fort Bragg to the agricultural capacity of the region. It will help the agricultural economy of the region position itself as it transitions into a new realm of agricultural economic development in which more specialized and direct-market or value-added enterprises are predominant.
RASP is aimed at benefiting the farmers, farm-related businesses and farm service agencies in 11 counties in central-southeastern North Carolina. The project will be jointly developed by the Army's Base Realignment and Closure Regional Task Force (BRAC), the Moore County office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension and Sustainable Sandhills, an organization that works to preserve natural resources and enhance economic development in the Sandhills area.
The BRAC project, initiated in 2005, will significantly impact Fort Bragg and its surrounding counties. The base will become home to the Army Forces Command Headquarters and the area could see as many 30,000 to 40,000 new residents by 2012 as Fort Bragg will become the largest Army installation in the United States.
Only six weeks into the project, Ix says she is thrilled with the opportunities it presents.
"There are so many agricultural resources available in this 11-county region," Ix said. "As the connections between Fort Bragg and the farmers are further developed, all constituencies will thrive and the attendant economic benefits will be substantial. Coupled with the national local-food movement and the transportation challenges we all face because of the high cost of fuel, the potential for synergy is immense."
The program will seek to create new jobs and new opportunities in agriculture and agricultural technology and their related services. It will work to advance opportunities in specialty farms, community-supported agriculture initiatives and the burgeoning agritourism sector. It also will establish research partnerships with the UNC system in agricultural biotechnology and homeland security-related fields.
"This BRAC project gets right to the root of the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission's mission," said William Upchurch, the trust fund's executive director. "It's going to be a great help in enabling former tobacco farmers and tobacco-industry workers most fully and effectively take advantage of new agricultural opportunities."
The Tobacco Trust Fund Commission was established in 2000 as farmers, former quota holders and tobacco workers began the transition from a stable, federally run price-support system to a free market of direct contracts with tobacco companies and a globally competitive price structure.
The commission has each year since offered grants to help individuals and communities in North Carolina with this transition and to prepare them for the economic opportunities of the next generations.
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