Next Gen Ag: Passion leads to purpose in NC Agriculture

by | Apr 17, 2024

Next Gen Ag is a year long series that will run on our In The Field blog, Facebook page, Instagram page and Twitter account. Each Wednesday, we will highlight a young person pursuing a career in the agriculture industry. Individuals can be in high school, college, or recent graduates who are working to establish a career in agriculture. Stay tuned each week to meet some of our industry’s future leaders!

Growing up on a family farm, Paul Eldridge connected with the land at a young age and found peace in the world of agriculture. From growing and selling produce in high school to pursuing his graduate degree at N.C. State University, Paul has kept his eyes on our state’s number one industry for as long as he can remember.

As a young boy, some of Paul’s earliest memories were of helping his family in the garden and barning tobacco on the farm. Located in Smithfield, Paul’s family farm continues to grow a variety of produce and row crops today, including corn, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and small grains, in addition to raising cattle. “I am the fourth generation to work on the family farm,” Paul said. “My entire family has deep roots in agriculture, even my mother who works as an agribusiness banker with First Citizens. It’s a part of who we are and it has been a passion of mine for most of my life.” Through the years, Paul has received many hands-on experiences in agriculture, including being given an acre of farmland by his aunt and uncle to raise produce on and sell within the community.

During his high school years at South Johnston High School, Paul was not only farming a variety of produce and selling it to members of his community, but he was also extremely active in the FFA where he learned many valuable skills, competed in a variety of competitions and experienced facets of agriculture he had not seen before. “I’ve been actively growing and harvesting produce for about nine years now on the family farm with items like sweet potatoes, peppers, and corn,” he said. “I sell the produce to members of the community by pickup only at the farm. It started as an FFA project and turned into something that I loved and wanted to continue.” In his Senior year of high school, Paul served as President of the FFA where he furthered his passion for the industry. “Agriculture is the best industry in the world because it is the number one economic driver in our state,” he said. “It offers a broad range of opportunities, including commercial fishing, livestock, row crops, and nursery production. It is the industry that feeds and clothes everyone.” Finding passion, love, and peace on the farm led Paul to continue pursuing agriculture in college and graduate school at N.C. State University.

Last May, Paul graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Crop and Soil Sciences with a concentration in Agronomy. He is currently in his first year of graduate school where he is working to obtain a master’s degree in Crop Science. “My plans after college are to continue pursuing a career in the industry, hopefully related to my degree in Agronomy,” he said .”Eventually I would like to own my own business where I could either grow produce or help others in the agriculture industry through what I do.” Although he isn’t 100% sure where his future in agriculture will take him, Paul’s hard work ethic and dedication to the industry will drive him to continue making a difference for agriculture in our state and he is open to any opportunity that comes his way.

Paul is excited about the future of agriculture because of the innumerable opportunities presented to him. “The best part of working in this industry is the endless opportunities available to find what sparks your passion,” he said. “I love to learn new things every day about different aspects of the industry, and with agriculture that’s easy to do. Everyone is so willing to help you succeed in any area and allow you to get hands-on experience to find where you belong. It’s a passion, community, and network unlike any other.”

In fact, Paul’s advice to anyone seeking a career in the agriculture industry is exactly that – to get your hands dirty and figure out what part of agriculture speaks to you. “Without getting your hands dirty and finding what you enjoy, you will not know where your passion truly lies,” he said. “By gaining hands-on experience across the industry, you will quickly learn where your passion lies and your heart, or career, belongs.” We are so proud of all that Paul has already done for our state’s number one industry and look forward to seeing where the future will continue to lead him!