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Brent Jackson aims to represent agriculture in Raleigh

by Tad Thompson | May 26, 2010
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 10.

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 the issues."

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 senate."

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.