ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) -- Political visit or not, local farmers got the chance to meet with someone who directly affects their lives. The US Agriculture Secretary met with farmers in Bladen County today to talk about the future of agriculture and promote rural development. Agriculture pays the bills in Bladen County and it's the No. 1 industry in the state.
"Farmers represent less than one percent of the country's population, but they provide 100 percent of our food and fiber," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Three hundred farmers from eight counties gathered at Lu Mil Vineyard in Elizabethtown for the 14th Annual Appreciation Dinner.
"My heart was filled with joy because believe me, I need all the help that I can get," organic farmer Willie Bell.
The focus is to keep farmers on their farms.
"We are still in a transition period in agriculture," peanut farmer Dan Ward said. He said farmers are transitioning from acreage or production control to a free market system.
"You try to contract the crop you're going to grow without knowing what cost you're going to incur," Ward said. "So you project that you're going to make a good crop, but if you have a disaster, you may not have enough money to cover your bills."
That's not the only challenge. Along with drought and flooding, farmers say they've also had to deal with increased prices for fertilizer and machinery. But tuesday was the day for farmers to put their troubles aside and be honored for their work.
"Rural America is where this country got started," Vilsack said. "Its value system was rooted in rural communities and rural leaders, and I think the farmers and ranchers and small community leaders recognize that and instill in their young people as their growing up this sense that you have to give something back, you can't keep taking. And it's something we learn from agriculture: you can't keep taking from the land. You've got to give something back to it."
With farmland disappearing and farmers making up less than one percent of our population, the big concern is what's going to happen to farming in the future? That's why some farmers say financial assistance from the federal government is so important. The farmers also expressed concern about the farm bill that helps protect them financially expiring in 2012.