Three Democrats battle to face off against four-term Agriculture Commissioner

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler speaks to the crowd of farm families at the Ag Rally on June 25, 2018 in Raleigh. Lauren Rose, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Early voting in the primary has begun and three Democrats are battling to become the final challenger to face Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, a Republican, who is seeking his fifth term.

The Commissioner oversees the 20 divisions that make up the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, as well as directs the implementation of more than 75 different laws and programs.

A native of Guilford County, Commissioner Steve Troxler is the founder, owner and operator of Troxler Farms, which produces tobacco, wheat, vegetables and soybeans.  He holds a B.S. in conservation from North Carolina State University (1974).

Troxler was first elected in the general election in 2004 after beating Democrat Britt Cobb by a mere 2,287 votes. After that election, Troxler has won comfortably in subsequent elections.

In 2008, Troxler defeated Democrat Ronnie Ainsley by 167,405 votes. He then went on to beat Democrat Walter Smith in 2012, by 278,532 votes and again in 2016 by 505,573 votes.

Walter Smith, Jr. owns and operates a poultry and industrial hemp farm in Robeson and Yadkin Counties.

Smith previously served on the Booneville Town Council and as Mayor, served as the Executive Director of a field office for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in Yadkin County and has taught vocational agriculture at a high school in Martin County.

Smith holds a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from North Carolina State University.

“We must find new ways to keep our family farms profitable and to attract the next generation of farmers,” Smith says on his campaign website.

Key platform issues for Smith include food insecurity, saving family farms, climate change, legalizing medical marijuana, food and consumer safety, animal welfare and protecting the environment.

Jennifer “Jenna” Wadsworth, also a Democrat, is the Co-Founder and former Co-Director of the progressive nonprofit “New Leaders Council – North Carolina.”

Wadsworth graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham in 2007. She also serves on the school’s alumni association’s board of directors.

She graduated from North Carolina State University in December 2011 with majors in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies.

In 2010, Wadsworth was elected to the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. At the time, she was 21 years old, making her the youngest woman ever elected to public office in the state. Wadsworth was re-elected to that board in 2018.

“Climate change is real, and we must build resiliency into our farm plans,” Wadsworth says on her website.

Wadsworth’s campaign website lists nearly two dozen platform issues such as farmland preservation, environmental education, water quality, agribusiness, agritourism and support for renewable energy and solar leases and health issues like Medicaid expansion and Medicare for All.

In addition, Wadsworth wants to see the “expansion of new crops and diverse revenue streams,” including hemp and cannabis legalization.

Donovan “Alex” Watson, another Democrat, is the owner and CEO of Perkins Orchard in Durham. Watson is a lifelong resident of Durham County who graduated from Jordan High School in 2012.

Watson’s main campaign themes include platform ideas maintaining and increasing the number of farms in the state, agricultural innovation, increasing the percentage of farmers of color and expanding agritourism and agribusiness opportunities.

In addition, Watson wants to plan for increased economic development in agriculture including introducing a new industry in marijuana production.

About A.P. Dillon 279 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_