Food safety and biofuels

The state agriculture commissioner is the face of N.C. farming, but the candidates for election as the state's top farmer have more on their minds than sows and seeds.

Steve Troxler, the Republican incumbent, has put much stock in his concentration on food safety and his work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the quick inspection of food during the contaminated produce scare last summer. He says he wants to expand this work in food safety in cooperation with the federal government.

“We'll work with them on better ways to do national recalls for products and do it quickly,” Troxler said.

Ronnie Ansley, a lawyer with an office in Raleigh, said he would emphasize developing a biofuels industry, which would open a new market for woody plants. And he wants to use the office to encourage students to consider agriculture-related careers in biotechnology, marketing and sales.

“It isn't just cows and plows anymore,” he said. “We can provide well-paying jobs for North Carolina's children.”

Troxler, a former tobacco farmer who grows wheat, soybeans and sweet potatoes on an 85-acre farm in Browns Summit, is running for a second term.

Ansley, who has degrees in agricultural education in addition to his law degree, grows trees in Pamlico and Wake counties but has not harvested any.

The state leads the nation in tobacco and sweet potato production and Christmas tree sales, and is second in hog and turkey production. Net farm income is about $3.7 billion a year, third in the U.S.