After the Civil War ended, North Carolina farmers recognized the need for a government organization to help the state’s farming industry. According to the North Carolina Manual, crops and livestock were of poor quality and farmers were getting low prices for the commodities. Farms were small and inefficient due to a system of farm tenancy. While farming organizations, such as the State Grange and the Agricultural Society, were helping, they needed a statewide governing body with regulatory authority that could solve problems.
Gov. John Ellis had tried to get the General Assembly to create a Board of Agriculture as early as 1860, but it wasn’t until 1877 that the Department of Agriculture came to fruition. The General Assembly tasked the first agriculture commissioner, L.L. Polk, and his department with the following tasks:
- Find a means of improving sheep husbandry and curb high mortality rates caused by dogs;
- Seek the causes of disease among domestic animals, to quarantine sick stock, and to regulate transportation of animals;
- Seek to check insect ravages;
- Foster new crops suited to various soils of the state;
- Collect statistics on fences in North Carolina, with the object of altering the system in use;
- Work with the United States Fish Commission in the protection and propogation of fish;
- Send a report to the General Assembly each session;
- Seek cooperation of other states on such matters as obstruction of fish in interstate waters; and
- Make rules regulating the sale of feeds and fertilizers.
In addition, the department was to establish a chemical laboratory at the University of North Carolina for testing fertilizers and to work with the geological survey in studying and analyzing natural resources.
– The North Carolina Manual
Many of the mandates from 1877 are still in effect today. Today’s ag department has 20 divisions and a much wider scope of regulatory, promotional and consumer protection programs. As a matter of fact, the department’s name changed in 1997 to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to better reflect our role in protecting North Carolina citizens.
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