A May 4 winner of a Republican primary election for a North Carolina Senate
seat, watermelon grower-shipper Brent Jackson has learned a lot about
politics in his first campaign for political office.
Mr. Jackson told The Produce News May 18 that he was motivated to run
because North Carolina, despite having agriculture as its primary industry,
has few state leaders with an understanding of agricultural issues. Mr.
Jackson is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Jackson
Farming Co. Inc. in Autryville, NC. To his list of titles, Mr. Jackson added, "I'm
mostly known as 'TWIC': Tight Wad in Charge."
While this is his first political endeavor, Mr. Jackson knows the limelight. He
has served as chairman of the board of the National Watermelon Association,
president of the North Carolina Horticulture Council and was on the board of
the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Mr. Jackson also served on the
board of North Carolina's Sampson County Farm Bureau.
His campaign web site leads with the statement, "Agriculture is vital to North
Carolina's economic future. As a farmer, I plan to get our economy moving
again by expanding agriculture and recruiting agribusiness to our region to
provide well-paying jobs to eastern North Carolinians."
He is campaigning to be one of 50 state senators, representing the state's
Duplin, Lenoir and Sampson counties, which comprise North Carolina District
Mr. Jackson told The Produce News, "There is very little representation in
Raleigh [NC] -- or Washington [DC] -- of folks that understand agriculture
and make a living doing it. Agriculture is part of my agenda and the main
reason I am running. I believe North Carolina is on the wrong track -- a bad
track -- on budgeting and tax structure issues. We have become an
unfriendly state to business, and we need to correct that. The number one
issue in the district and the state is jobs -- and the economy -- which go
hand in hand." Unfair taxes make operating difficult for small business, and
they do not entice small businesses to move to North Carolina, he said.
Of his new political experience, Mr. Jackson noted that he has been "both
impressed and disappointed. I'm impressed on the state level because our
current state senators and House representative are paid very, very little.
They do this as a service to the state and their community. But it is
disappointing to see people who never had to sign both sides of a check
making the rules for us."
This is in part true, he added, because "it is hard for the average
businessperson to devote time to running and getting elected. It takes so
much time from your business. The return is not monetary. It is in knowing
that you did the right thing."
Most state politicians are "made up of retired folks," Mr. Jackson said. "A few
have devoted their life to it." There are very few "folks in Raleigh" with an
agricultural background. "To be ag-friendly and really understand agriculture,
you have to come from a farm and derive income from a farm to understand
Important issues now pertain to food safety and water rights. "I hope to add
my two cents to make sure it's fair to agriculture and the industrial
community on water rights. Also, on food safety, we need a fair and equitable
food-safety program. With my experiences, I feel I can write a policy model
that can be used throughout the nation -- coming from someone who has
that experience. Those currently making the rules" do not have relevant
experience. "That is why I believe we are on the wrong track. Good people are
doing the wrong thing thinking they are doing the right thing. The other
thing is to educate folks on what we are doing. I can offer that to the state
Mr. Jackson won his primary by taking 53 percent of the vote in a campaign
against a two-time county commissioner. He will face Democrat Dewey
Hudson in the November general election.
Mr. Jackson was scheduled to fly to Sarasota, FL, on May 19 to oversee the
beginning of his watermelon season. "I am ready for some income to start
coming," he lightly noted. He has long been a shipper for independent
Florida growers, but this is his first year to have his own Sarasota farm.
Jackson Farming Co. also works with watermelon growers in Georgia, North
Carolina and South Carolina. According to his web site, in Autryville, NC, the
company has 1,500 acres of double-cropped watermelons, cantaloupes,
honeydews, strawberries, pumpkins, squash and slicer cucumbers (710 acres
of which consists of product grown on black plastic with drip irrigation);
1,000 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans; 600 acres of peanuts; and 330
acres of flue-cured tobacco.
The company's North Carolina watermelon deal usually ends in the first few
days of October.
Mr. Jackson and his wife, Debbie Jackson, started farming in 1979 and
incorporated the firm in 1981. The couple works with their two sons, Rodney,
who has led production for 10 years, and Joshua, who heads the company's
food-safety and warehouse operations.