Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Meet Shawn Harding, the 12th president of the N.C. Farm Bureau

Farming is in Shawn Harding’s blood. “I remember my great-grandfather was a farmer,” Harding says. “I haven’t done the whole research and however many generations, but my whole family has been farming all our lives probably.” 

The new president of the N.C. Farm Bureau and Beaufort County native grew up helping tend his father’s farm before graduating from N.C. State University in 1988. He spent 30 years working at his Southside Farms in eastern North Carolina near Chocowinity. Harding joined the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation staff after harvesting his last crop in 2018. In his career, he has served as the Beaufort County Farm Bureau president; chairman of the N.C. bureau’s Resolutions Committee and presided on its board of directors. For the last year, he was the federation’s public policy director. 

In early December, 552 voting delegates representing county farm bureaus across the state elected Harding president over two other  nominees. Howell will succeed Larry Wooten, who retired over holding the post since 1999. 

Harding said he believes the industry’s biggest issues include a lack of profitability and disconnect with consumers. 

“We’re losing farmers just because it’s not a profitable business,” Harding says. “People need to understand that farms are small businesses … and they are an important part of their community. So we need to find out how we can help farmers become more profitable and stay on the farm.”

The bureau is looking for new opportunities for farmers as the industry transitions, which is something of which Harding has first-hand knowledge. As demand for tobacco lessened, Harding transitioned production at his farm to fruits and vegetables. Strawberries is the main crop, but his site also grew blueberries, blackberries, greenhouse tomatoes and more. His last tobacco crop was produced in 2004. 

He also hopes to address the long-term conflict between consumers’ understanding of the industry and current sustainable practices. Harding says sustainability is incorporated in farmers’ everyday practices.

“There’s a disconnect between how our food is produced because we have so many generations removed from agriculture,” Harding says. “We’re working real hard at the Farm Bureau to communicate what we do, how we do it, and to be very transparent with that. … Sustainable practices have been a part of agriculture for a long time.” 

While the farm bureau promotes agriculture, its main business is its insurance unit. Harding says he isn’t an expert in insurance, but the bureau is organized to succeed and he’s ready to learn from experts surrounding him. Executive Vice President Steve Carroll leads the insurance business on a day-to-day basis.

N.C. Farm Bureau Insurance sells more than $1 billion of property-casualty insurance annually, with revenue climbing 22% over the last five years. It trails only State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. in volume in the state. It has 1.1 million policyholders who buy coverage on more than 1 million vehicles, about 400,000 homes and 14,000 farms.

“We have great insurance company that works alongside our federation to work with farmers and really all the citizens of North Carolina to provide a great service,” Harding says. “We have a really strong and great insurance company that’s a product of our past leadership, and that vision really led us to where we are today.”

Farm Bureau rules require the president to have farming experience.

“I’m excited to help serve this organization that’s meant so much to me,” he says. “It’s really been sort of a bedrock of my life of my family as a farmer. So I’m excited to serve other farmers in this role, where hopefully we can look for ways to help them but also be a voice for them. Ultimately that’s what we want to be as a voice for agriculture here in the state.”

Related Articles