Agriculture commissioner: Incumbent Troxler faces Walter Smith

Steve Troxler (incumbent), GOP, NC agriculture commissioner; 02.11.16
Steve Troxler (incumbent), GOP, NC agriculture commissioner; 02.11.16 2006 News & Observer file photo

The incumbent

Republican Steve Troxler is seeking his fourth term as N.C. Agriculture Commissioner.

The challengers

Walter Smith, retired and owner of a Yadkin County farm, is his Democratic challenger.

About the office

The commissioner leads the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The commissioner’s goal is to protect and enhance the state’s ability to have “an adequate supply of food and fiber in North Carolina.” The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is also responsible for the enforcement of many regulatory programs that protect and promote the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens of North Carolina.

Why this race matters

Troxler said people don’t realize the impact the department has.

“It would surprise people at the amount of things we do that affect their lives,” he said. “Everyone gets agriculture, but we are the primary food safety agency in N.C. We affect people every day, 365 days a year. You name it, we do it.”

Smith agrees.

“It has more impact on a person’s life – they are responsible for consumer safety, cosmetics and drugs,” Smith said. “They are responsible for a lot of other consumer issues. They help keep our water clean, to manage our forest land.”

About the candidates

Smith grew up in Robeson County, where he worked on his family farm, which raised tobacco, cotton, hogs and cows.

“That’s where I learned the value of hard work,” Smith said. “Sometimes we worked 12 hours a day. If they enforced child labor I guess my parents would have been in trouble.”

Troxler is a lifelong resident of Guilford County. He too has his own farm, with tobacco, wheat, soybeans and produce.

“My parents weren’t farmers,” he said. “My wife and I started our farming operation together. We started it from a part-time operation (in the early 1970s) into a fairly large operation in Piedmont.”

Where the candidates stand

If reelected, Troxler said he will focus on disaster relief from Hurricane Matthew.

“We’re working on that as we speak,” he said.

He also said the department will continue working on a new $94 million lab facility that will combine several different labs, including food safety labs, a standards lab for weights and measures and a veterinary lab. He said his department will be implementing the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

Smith said he would make several changes if elected.

“We are losing family farms at a high rate,” he said. “We have to save those farms. They provide the food that we like to eat, and we need to find the next generation of farmers. That’s not being done.”

He also said he would focus on food safety and would increase diversity on his staff.

“The department doesn’t have a single minority in upper management,” Smith said.

Walter Smith

Age: 62

Education: St. Pauls High School, Robeson County; agriculture engineering degree, N.C. State, 1976

Professional experience: Has a farm in Yadkin County. Worked for U.S. Department of Agriculture for 34 years, now retired.

Political resume: Mayor of Boonville, late 1980s.

Family: Two sons, one grandson, wife is deceased.

Website: www.votewaltersmith.com

Steve Troxler

Age: 64

Education: N.C. State University graduate, 1974

Professional experience: N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture since 2005, full-time farmer from 1974 to 2005 in Guilford County.

Political resume: N.C. Agriculture Commissioner since 2005

Family: Married, with two grown sons, and five grandchildren

Website: www.stevetroxler.com