Walter Smith | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture

Walter Smith 

Candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture

Name as it appears on ballot: Walter Smith

Party: Democrat

Campaign Web Site: www.votewaltersmith.com

Years lived in NC: 58

Occupation: farmer

Email: walter_smith@votewaltersmith.com


1. What do you see as the most important issues facing the Department of Agriculture and agriculture in general in North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Loss of farmland and family farms

Lack of young farmers to replace those that are retiring

Soaring production costs for farmers

Food and consumer safety

Encouraging farmers and agribusinesses to "Go Green"

Cutting red tape in NCDA and making the Department more responsive

My top three priorities are:

First, I will establish a hotline for farmers, agribusiness, and consumers to call to with problems, concerns, or suggestions. I want NCDA to be the most efficient and responsive agency in state government

Secondly, we must find new young farmers, protect our family farms, and find ways to increase profits on smaller acreages. We will partner with our land grant universities, private business, farm organizations and commodity associations to find solutions to the issues.

Thirdly, I will insure that food and consumer safety is a high priority. I will dedicate more resources to protect our food supply and we will work with farmers and businesses to educate them and inform them of the need to provide safe products. I want consumers to know that if a product is produce in North Carolina it is safe. I want North Carolina to be number one in the nation in food and consumer safety.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you have identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to your current goals.

I have worked for the US Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency for over 30 years serving the public and administering agricultural programs. My goal was to provide courteous and professional service to every one of our clients. We streamlined our services to help reduce red tape. We made sure we listened to our clients and followed through on their comments. As Commissioner of Agriculture I will cut red tape and listen to our farmers, consumers, and agribusinesses.

While serving as Mayor of Boonville I was entrusted with the safety and welfare of its constituents. I do not take that responsibility lightly. Food and consumer safety will be one of my top priorities.

I grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, received a BS in Agricultural Engineering from NC State University, taught vocational agriculture, worked with farmers while employed by USDA Farm Service Agency, served on several agricultural advisory committees, and am currently on the board of directors of the NC Ag Foundation. I have seen firsthand what has happened in the agricultural community for the past 40 years. We have lost farms, farmers, and farmland at an alarming rate. I am dedicated to finding ways to slow down these loses. My background provides a unique perspective to these issues and an understanding as to the causes.

3. How would you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform.

I believe that government should work for the people and be responsive to the people. In my 30+ years with the Department of Agriculture I always put the farmers first. I constantly reminded my staff that we worked for the taxpayer and they deserved courteous and efficient service. We assisted the farmers in cutting through the red tape associated with federal programs. As Mayor of Boonville I was entrusted with the safety and welfare of the citizens. I did not take this responsibility lightly. I will apply these same principles to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

4. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

I believe in an open and responsive government. I will listen to the people of North Carolina. One of my first actions as Commissioner will to establish a HOTLINE so that anyone who has any concern, problems or suggestions can talk directly with a North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employee.

5. Identify and explain one principal stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

The State Legislature will soon be debating North Carolina's death tax. North Carolina currently follows the federal law which exempts estates with assets of $5 million or less. As of January 1, 2013 the federal law changes that exemption to $1 million in assets. The legislature is looking at either staying with the federal changes or repealing the estate tax. North Carolina needs the revenue from the estate taxes on the wealthiest estates but not at the expense of family farms and small agribusiness. I am worried that we will lose more family farms and small agribusinesses because of the pending changes in federal estate laws. We are already losing family farms at an alarming rate. Many young farmers who inherit a farm would have to sell the farm to pay the estate taxes if the new federal law is followed in North Carolina. The same would be true for small agribusiness. I advocate a compromise and common sense solution to this problem and that is to retain the estate tax but exempt bona fide farmers and small agribusinesses. It will still generate some revenue and also protect the owners of family farms and agribusinesses.

6. If these issues haven't been addressed above, would you please comment on:

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service regulates food and consumer safety. I will make sure we take food and consumer safety seriously. North Carolina produces an abundant supply of seafood, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. We want the consumer to know that if it was produced in North Carolina it is healthy and safe. We will work together with farmers and businesses to educate them and inform them of the need to provide safe products to the consumer. If they do not comply we will use whatever means we have at our disposal to insure compliance. I want North Carolina to be number one in food and consumer safety.

6. Congress is expected to take up and pass an updated Farm Bill this year. What issues would you advocate for on behalf of North Carolina that would help our state's farmers specifically? Please explain how you would advocate for small-scale farmers and agribusiness.

The farm bill must have provisions that provide a safety net for family farms to assist them when commodity prices are below the cost of production. Changes are needed to the Federal Crop Insurance Program so that every crop in North Carolina is covered and coverage is affordable. We need to establish a catastrophic disaster program that would help farmers who are hit by natural disasters. USDA currently has a loan program that provides operating and ownership loans and loans specifically for socially disadvantage and limited resource farmers. This loan program needs to be fully funded. All of these issues would be beneficial to small scale family farms in North Carolina.

7. Following up on the issue, agribusiness continues to dominate food production nationwide and North Carolina. These businesses are often heavily subsidized; which allows them to maintain their market dominance. What is your opinion of such farms subsidies? What consideration and opportunities should be given to small-scale enterprises, many of which lack the political power of agribusiness?

There is a difference between farm subsidies and agribusiness subsidies although the two are related. Farm subsidies are paid to farmers. We need a safety net for farmers, but it should be tied to the farm economy. Farm payments should be targeted primarily for family farms.

Agribusiness subsidies are generally payments or tax credits to agricultural related businesses. An example of an agribusiness subsidy would be the tax credit given to the ethanol industry. Some subsidy is needed to ensure that the United States has a reliable and sufficient food supply, but we have to be careful that the subsidy paid to agribusiness is beneficial to the consumer.

8. The agriculture department has been criticized over the "Butterball Incident" in which an agricultural department employee alerted butterball about animal cruelty allegations at the facility. If you are the incumbent, explain the appropriateness of how the department handled the issue—and issues in general related to the relationship between regulators and regulates. If you are a challenger, tell us how you think the incident should have been handled and comment on the relationship issue.

A statement should have been issued by the Agriculture Commissioner himself and not a spokesperson. This should have been done immediately after law enforcement visited the facility so as not to interfere with their investigation. The Agriculture Commissioner should be an advocate for animal welfare and address any welfare issues of this nature empathically and immediately. All North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture employees must perform their jobs professionally and any personal relationships with the businesses being regulated must be completely separated from their business relationship. This separation of personal and business relationships also applies to the Commissioner of Agriculture.

9. Last fall, President Obama signed a bill restoring the horse-slaughter industry in the U.S. Is this a viable industry in North Carolina? If you would support bringing horse slaughter plants and companies to the state, what regulations and oversight should be implemented, in addition to the federal laws?

The horse-slaughter industry may be a necessary industry, but it must be regulated to ensure the treatment of the horses being shipped to the slaughterhouse and the slaughtering process is humane. Horse slaughtering was taking place before this bill was passed, just not in the U.S. Horses from the U.S. were being shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter and the treatment of these horses were out of our control. At least now we have some control. I am not sure if I would support a horse slaughter plant in North Carolina. I would need to do more research on the issue before I make a decision.

10. What role, if any should the agriculture department have in offering financial assistance or other relief to poultry and pork farmers who have lost large contracts with agribusiness companies? A recent example would be the former Townsend poultry farmers who suffered after the chicken processor closed its operations in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture should take the lead in assisting any group of farmers who find themselves in the same situation as the Townsend poultry farmers. Many of these farmers stand the prospect of losing everything they have. NCDA should coordinate all the resources and assistance available to help farmers in these situations. They need to work closely with the US Department of Agriculture who has programs available to provide financial assistance. NCDA should also work diligently find a buyer for the company the growers had a contract with, help to find other companies who are willing to give contracts to the displaced growers and offer alternative uses for the affected farms.

  • Candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture

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