Walter Smith - NC Commissioner of Agriculture | Candidate Questionnaires - Statewide | Indy Week
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Walter Smith - NC Commissioner of Agriculture 

Name as it appears on the ballot: Walter Smit

Campaign website:

Phone number: 336-466-3655


Years lived in the district/state: all my life

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?

 The loss of family farms, finding the next generation of farmers, rebuilding rural communities, keeping our food safe, protecting our consumers, protecting our environment, animal welfare, and diversity in the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. My top three priorities are saving our family farms by making them profitable again, fighting hunger in North Carolina by not only feeding the hungry but also helping them to find ways to feed themselves, and keeping our food safe.

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 a degree in Agricultural Engineering, have worked with the US Dept. of Agriculture for over 30 years administering federal farm programs, and I am a farmer. I know the problems family farmers face to survive and I have seen programs and policies that have helped these farmers make a profit. The Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services must partner with our land grant universities, farm organizations, private industry, local government, and state government to identify the programs that will help make family farms profitable again. Then we will put these programs in place and help each farm find the program that will make them profitable.  Each farm is different and we need to find the right program for each farm.  Overall farm policy is set by Congress and I will use the knowledge I learned with the US Dept of Agriculture to work with our Congressmen and Senators to help pass a farm bill that will benefit all North Carolina farmers. As Mayor of Boonville I was responsible for ensuring that the safety, health, and needs of the citizens were met. I worked with organizations to help feed the hungry and I have visited many towns and communities that used innovative ways to get food to those who needed it. As Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services I can help the entire state implement these and other solutions to combat hunger. As an agricultural engineer and a former teacher I will work with others in the food industry to develop new methods to keep our food safe. We must educate the farmers and the public on the importance of what each can do to help make sure the food we eat and feed our families is safe.

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

 I am a politician who believes that decisions should be made based on good common sense and what benefits the citizens of North Carolina and not based on partisan politics and pressure from special interest groups. I will take the politics out of the Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  I will give back the employees who work there the authority to do their job and make decisions based on policy and not politics. Everyone, that includes employees and the public will be treated fairly and equally. In my 30 plus years with USDA and my time as Mayor I always tried to treat people with respect and follow the golden rule that my parents instilled in me growing up. 

4. Do you believe the N.C. Department of Agriculture currently does a good job of assisting farmers in North Carolina? Why or why not? In what areas could the state improve in this regard?

 I don’t think the Dept. does enough to help family farms. That is evident by North Carolina being one of the top states in the nation in the loss of family farms. According to the American Farmland Trust North Carolina is also 14th  in the nation in the loss of agricultural land.  We must do a much better job in saving our farmland and our family farmers.

5. In rural areas around the state, there’s been an increasingly prevalent trend of businesses using legal loopholes to establish commercial operations—gun ranges, event spaces, rodeos—by taking advantage of benefits intended for farmers. In many cases, this intrudes upon a farming way of life that has been prevalent in those areas for generations. In light of this, should rules about what constitutes a bona fide farm be amended? Where do you draw the line on what commercial enterprises should be allowed on a property classified as a farm?  

There is much debate and many definitions of what constitutes a farm. Webster’s dictionary defines a farm as land where crops are grown or animals are raised or water where fish, oysters, etc are raised. Many government agencies also require that a farm generate at least $1000 in revenue to be considered bona-fide. I am satisfied with that definition of a farm. It is simple and definable. I think any enterprise that falls within this definition should be classified as a farm. Any commercial enterprise that falls outside of this definition should not be classified as a farm.

6. The Triangle is a university-rich region. Are the universities adequately tied into the farming communities in a way that benefits the next generation of farmers? What steps could be taken to improve those relations?

 They can be of great benefit to the next generation of farmers. They have research and development that will provide the next generation of farmers the technology and resources to be able to continue to increase yields and move farming into the 21th century. The land grant universities will also be the place we will partner with to identify the next generation of farmers.

7. In some parts of the Triangle, the cost of land has made it very expensive to continue farming. Is there anything the Department of Agriculture can do to encourage farming in these areas? 

Many farmers would prefer to continue to farm their land instead of selling it if they can make a reasonable profit. The Dept. must find ways to make these farms more profitable. The other way to keep this land in agricultural production is to encourage land owners to put the land in a permanent conservancy program. The combination of conservation payments and tax incentives form a strong incentive to keep the land from being sold for development.

8. In 2015, the legislature enacted House Bill 405, the “ag-gag” law, which makes it illegal for citizen whistleblowers to document poor conditions—such as animal cruelty, environmental violations, and worker mistreatment—at factory farms. A legal challenge to the law, filed earlier this year, argues this law unconstitutionally violates free speech. Where do you come down on this issue? Should the law stay, or should it be repealed?

Most of the farmers I have talked to do not mind reasonable people coming on their farm to look at their operations. They have nothing to hide and repealing this bill would have little or no impact on them. This bill should be repealed because it is a bad bill. Those who expose animal cruelty should not be punished, but this bill goes even farther.  It affects nursing homes, daycares, veteran facilities, anywhere where you have people that are vulnerable. People can be punished for reporting violations found in other businesses as well as agriculture. 

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

I believe that GMO foods should be labeled but not because I think they are harmful.  I have not seen any research that indicates GMO foods are harmful to humans. They should be labeled because I think that consumers should always be informed as to what they are eating so they can make their own decisions on what they want to eat and feed their families. 


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