Name as it appears on the ballot: Donovan Alexander Watson

Age: 25

Party affiliation: Democrat 

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: CEO of Perkins Orchard 

Years lived in North Carolina: 25 years (Lifelong Resident) 

1) Please tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be an effective Commissioner of Agriculture? These might include career or community service—please be specific. 

My background is as a North Carolina agribusiness owner. After my grandfather stopped running our fruit stand that was based on an honor system, I took over operations with a plan to modernize and scale our Durham-based agricultural business. I worked with City officials, County Officials, & members of the State to ensure the long established produce market would not be infringed upon by overbearing regulations. I turned the Honor system into a million dollar C-corp in 5 years. 

I have been upholding the duties of the commissioner established by the Constitution of North Carolina all my life. We want to use the power & resources of the office combined to inspire the current & next generation of North Carolina Farm families & businesses. I regularly engage with preschoolers, teens, young adults, & seniors of all walks of life to be role models of what it means to live in North Carolina. My Business inflows over $250,000 into direct farmers annually. We must rebrand our state & take a different approach to promoting a critical & historic heritage that is the one culture that binds us all together, Agriculture. 

Farmers from Murphy to Manteo have a voice in Donovan Alexander Watson. I will represent you with the strength & resolve that time after time is needed when faced with unforeseen adversity on the farm land. We press through obstacles that hold back economic prosperity & when we achieve it, we preserve it. We share stories of struggle, we share stories of achievement, and we passed down values year after year as we’ve done for decades. My relentless work in agribusiness has consistently uplifted the core values & sole duty of the Commissioner of Agriculture under the North Carolina Constitution. 

2) Do you believe the Department of Agriculture does an effective job of assisting the state’s farmers? In what ways could the state improve? 

No, Steve Troxler is not doing enough for our state’s farmers right now. The fact that we have lost 52,000 farms in North Carolina in the last 12 years tells you how he is letting farmers down. We have only 46,000 farmers to farm over 12 million acres of land. The average age of a farmer in North Carolina is 59. We must educate the youth on the impact of choosing agriculture for passive or a direct source of income. This is a 90 billion dollar industry that I plan to increase to 100 billion by investing time and resources in all 100 counties to create jobs, increase social impact, & bring in restaurants and local businesses.

 Being a true example of what can be done is very important. I will implement a “You Can Be a Farmer” Program on Day 1. I will set an example by sharing information and knowledge with my fellow North Carolinians on how to make a profit in this state’s economy while creating jobs, bringing in tax revenue, being a resource for schools, a social destination to visit & collaborate, and most importantly the access to food and fiber. By definition in North Carolina a farmer is any person who can manufacture, grow, produce, or sell $1,000 of goods a year; we need to encourage and train more of those small farmers. We must put the “know how” in the hands of more young farmers so that there is a next generation to take the mantle of North Carolina agriculture.

Additionally, our Department of Agriculture is not doing enough to help our farmers prepare for natural disasters and bad seasons. Using the forestry service and protected land to relocate farmers in low lying areas that are being devastated by natural disasters mainly due to Hurricanes and flood prone areas. Relocating these farms is the smart thing to do where possible. Also opening up our States First Christmas Tree Reservoir program for growers in off or down years to fill the gap. The North Carolina Christmas Tree industry has taken a hit since 2009. Allegheny County will become our Proof of concept county. 

Most importantly for assisting our state’s farmers, we need a leader that actually understands their problems. I have faced these exact problems that I describe in building my business. Many don’t see potential, have little to no support, or know how to adapt to changes in consumer needs with a growing population of folks looking for what they once had in places they moved from, like Apple picking for example. Lots of families in NC have great ambition to get back to the land but have no idea where to begin that is worth their time and limited resources. We must elect a new leader that has experienced these problems, and know the solutions needed to move forward. 

3) In parts of the Triangle, rising land prices have made farming expensive—and some farmers have chosen to sell their land rather than stay in the business. Is there anything the Agriculture Department can do to encourage farmers to stay in the industry?

Yes, as Triangle farms are an essential part of our local food system, we must find ways to allow smaller farmers to make a profit and contribute to our local agriculture. We can do this first by connecting these farms to our local restaurants and driving up their profitability. Second, where appropriate, we can ease tax burdens for those who are valuable partners to our Triangle’s local restaurants and grocers.

My family’s business is a prime example of the potential for profitability in our Triangle’s farms. Property tax is rising, however people have to eat. Qualifications to be a farmer is any person who can grow, sell, produce, or manufacture $1,000 agricultural goods a year in North Carolina. Agritourism and promotion of these new small businesses will be enhanced and encouraged along with the NCDOT. The analytics I integrated has turned the honor system into a million dollar C-Corp in 5 years. Creating revenue, Jobs at $15+/hour, Sustainable food hub, educational resource for local schools, & a social destination place for locals and tourists from out of state.  This is the economic multiplier I want to see state wide on a multifaceted scale. 

4) The trade war with China hit some sectors of North Carolina agriculture fairly hard. What can the state do to help farmers who have struggled because of those tariffs? 

The trade war has been incredibly detrimental to our state’s working farmers. Our state government has to step in to help ease the loss of revenue that has resulted. Over the last two years North Carolina Tobacco Farmers have lost over a quarter of a billion dollars. Exports aren’t what they used to be now, natural disasters are affecting crops, toppled with a decline in tobacco smokers overall. 

I have a plan to relocate working farms from flood prone areas using the forestry services & making provisions to existing law. Transitioning Farms who want to remain in the industry with a new crop like hemp or marijuana (as laws are amended or submitted by this department as we intend) & extend proof of concept programs to encourage more folks to join in, but more importantly learn.  In warehouses across North Carolina, there’s more than a year’s worth of tobacco exports sitting unsold. We need a hybrid solution of finding new markets for the products that are already grown and then helping farms transition into new products that will be large industries in the future.

5) Are the state’s universities adequately tied into the farming communities in a way that benefits the next generation of farmers? What steps could be taken to improve those relationships? 

NC A&T and NC State are spearheading the next generation of farmers & agripreneurs. It is critical that individuals from all across the state have access to these great universities. We must implement programs for each grade level to consistently remind them of the importance of agriculture in North Carolina & grants for field trips to get a hands on experience that will last a lifetime & inspire the next generation. I am a prime example & leader on this front, and plan to frequently use the office to lift up and inspire new farmers. 

6) Over the last few years, there have been a lot of lawsuits focused on the environmental and nuisance impacts of hog farming in eastern North Carolina. Farmers, meanwhile, have lobbied the legislature for protections against litigation. Do you believe the state currently has adequate safeguards and regulatory structures in place?

This issue requires balancing the delicate environmental/nuisance issues that come from confinement livestock operations and the positive economic impact that these businesses have on the rural economy. Currently, the legislature limits the amount of money these operations can be held liable for. This protects farmers, workers, and rural NC from an undue burden with lasting effects. However, the state can use its ample fiscal and technical resources to provide assistance to these farmers in implementing solutions to nuisance (smell) problems such as methane capture structures over lagoons that will help contain the nuisance (smell). 

In addition, the technical assistance could come in the form of providing assistance in moving lagoons that are in floodplains which can cause environmental problems when they overflow. 

7) What other issues do you believe the Agriculture Commissioner should focus on that have not been addressed in this questionnaire?

We are making a grave mistake by jeopardizing our State Farmers Market in Raleigh. The current commissioner is threatening the market’s operations by approving a development plan that has no rendering for current wholesalers.The wholesale line in Raleigh brings in over 100 million annual and is the prime platform for farmers to bring goods into market, distributors to efficiently move goods onto 1-40 for schools, hotels, Restaurants, roadside stands, Military, Grocery Stores, Schools, & Charities like Meals on Wheels, NC Food Bank, Interfaith food shuttle & others. This is happening right now as phase one has already been funded to move the first wave of wholesalers without a lease agreement. Many believe Troxler will benefit from this in ways not seen in the public eye.  Current Wholesalers with Lease agreements are being driven out by non-renewal of lease agreements under current terms. Troxler is severely undermining the duty and role of the commissioner. The 14-20 wholesalers who bring in over 100 million annually are essentially being traded for retail shops & zoned space for hotels & high end condos. This is unacceptable. If elected I will ensure we protect this vital part of North Carolina’s economy.

Marijuana Legalization & regulation as modeled by other states to create more opportunities for our citizens and private sector jobs. Eastern & Western North Carolina needs an immediate influx of economic opportunity & I believe the resources from this department can be a stimulus with economic multipliers for decades to come.   

I believe we need to make more information known about the North Carolina Christmas Tree industry. We need to expand the industry to rival states like Pennsylvania & Oregon to supply the growth gap due to the lack of planting during the 2008 recession. We will work to ensure that not only are safeguards put in place to back growers in down years but also create a new platform for how we introduce this market to the average consumer in North Carolina. Enforce and strengthen rules for out of state Christmas Tree retailers to ensure the quality & standard of NC Fraser Firs aren’t being compromised by misinformation.