NC Must do more to stem farmland loss

| April 1, 2015

imagesEditorial by Asheville Citizen-Times, March 28, 2015.

Farmland is precious. North Carolina needs to do everything it can to stem the loss of land used to produce food.

Between 2007 and 2012, North Carolina lost 2,695 farms and 100,000 acres of farmland. The state still has 50,218 farms and 8.4 million acres of farmland, but much of it is under pressure from development.

“Not all farmland is created equal. The fertile, prime soils that build over time from flooding and deposit along stream corridors form some of the richest soil for producing abundant crops,” said Carl Silverstein, executive director of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

“Unfortunately, this relatively flat, accessible land is frequently lost to development. Accordingly, proactive efforts to conserve the remaining soils are needed.”

While the problem is statewide, it is especially critical in the mountains, where only 2 percent of the land is classified as prime agricultural land. Prime soils include a combination of sand, silt, clay and organic matter, formed over thousands of years by erosion, flooding, gravity, freezing and thawing.

Generally, these lands are relatively level and near streams. This, unfortunately, also makes them prime land for development. Is it any wonder North Carolina has lost 5 percent of its farms and 1 percent of its farmland in just five years?

Fortunately, governments at all levels are working to slow the trend. The standard vehicle is to pay the landowner the difference between the value of the land for farming and the value for development. In return, an easement is placed on the land limiting it to agricultural use.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded North Carolina $3.8 million for farmland preservation. Federal funds may provide up to 50 percent of cost of an agricultural easement.

The state Department of Agriculture last year awarded $2.3 million from its Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund “to help communities across the state protect farmland and promote agricultural enterprises.”

Of that amount, $375,000 went to the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District to assist with a conservation easement on 134 acres of farm and forestland in Fletcher. Other easement grants went to the Haywood County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Southwestern N.C. Resource Conservation and Development Council and the conservancy.

Locally, “The Buncombe County Farmland Preservation Program has permanently protected close to 1,000 acres of farm and forestland and has leveraged over $3 million in state and federal grants to purchase conservation easements,” according to the county website.

Most recently, the highlands conservancy has used a mixture of federal, state, county and private money to conserve 101 acres of farmland in Buncombe County. This may not sound like a lot, but the land in question is prime farmland. It contains the floodplain of Newfound Creek and a high percentage of nationally significant prime soils.

“Permanently protecting this farm is part of a long-term conservation vision to secure the prime soils and the agricultural viability of a unique and scenic valley,” said the conservancy’s William Hamilton of the larger, 80-acre tract.

“This critical parcel is vital to the productivity and viability of the Sandy Mush agricultural district as a whole. Nine percent of the property consists of prime, nationally important soils.”

“We have been able to expand our vegetable production with the peace of mind that the land that we are leasing will never be threatened by development,” said Aaron Grier regarding the smaller, 21-acre tract.

It’s no wonder farmland preservation programs are popular. They protect agricultural land from suburban sprawl while compensating the owner for the restrictions on the land. They need to be maintained and, if anything, expanded.

 http://www.citizen-times.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/03/28/view-nc-must-stem-farmland-loss/70587916/

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

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  1. Richard L Bunce says:

    While at least the government is compensating the land owner for this “taking” I would be interested in knowing what is the source of the government revenue to pay for this? I suspect it is the general funds… should be agricultural based fees.