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STATE: Income from NC food, fiber and forestry industries grows

By Dee Shore, NC State University

North Carolina’s agriculture and agribusiness industry remains strong, generating about one-sixth of the state’s income and jobs. New numbers show that 2019 was a record year when it comes to the industry’s contributions to the state’s gross domestic product.

A new industry snapshot – the latest in an annual series that North Carolina State University Professor Emeritus Mike Walden began compiling in the 1980s – shows that over 17%, or $95.9 billion of the $562 billion gross state product, was contributed by value-added income from food, natural fiber and forestry industries in 2019. That’s up from $92.7 billion in 2018.

Walden, of NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, said that agriculture and agribusiness also provided jobs for over 789,000 of the state’s ­­­4.5 million employees.

Data Details

The report reflects jobs and income in farming, manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing, following the supply chain from production to consumption.

In 2019, farming constituted a $16.9 billion endeavor in North Carolina and served as the backbone for a what Walden calls the state’s Number One industry: agriculture and agribusiness. Manufacturing and processing of food, natural fiber and forest products generated $39.5 billion; wholesaling, $13.3 billion; and retailing, $26.5 billion. Retailing includes restaurants and food, apparel and furniture stores.

Walden’s figures reflect value-added incomes: At the farm level, value-added is sales. At the manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing levels, it does not include the value of inputs produced outside of North Carolina, and it avoids over-counting of products used several times in the production chain, Walden explained.

Why? And What’s Next?

2019 was a good year for overall economic and job growth in North Carolina and the nation, the economist said. “When this happens, consumer spending rises. The rise in consumer spending helps the prepared food and restaurant food sectors, which are key parts of agribusiness.”

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to those sectors in 2020, and Walden said the exact impact on North Carolina agricultural and agribusiness jobs and income remains unknown. The data he uses for his report come from multiple state and federal sources, so it’ll be a year before he’ll be able to complete his analysis for the 2020 calendar year.

Still, Walden remains optimistic about economic recovery and the future of North Carolina agriculture and agribusiness. “They continue to be major components of the state economy, and I expect growth will continue,” he said. “But like most of our economy, the sectors will be reshaped over time.”