JAMES C. COWDEN
COUNTY EXTENSION DIRECTOR
MARCH 4, 2008
Where Has All The Farmland Gone?
The young man married his high school sweetheart and started dairy farming on a 150 acre farm located on the outskirts of town. Through the years they raised three children, with the eldest son staying on the farm.
The town continued to grow and stretched out towards the farm. Residential homes were built along a road behind the farm. A shopping plaza went up near the front of the farm. In less than 25 years, the farm could no longer be seen from the main road, except for two tall silos that appeared to be growing out of the town.
The father died suddenly at age 58, leaving the son and his family to manage the entire farm. His son became interested in farming, but with no land to produce crops to feed the animals or expand the operation, he had to find employment elsewhere.
The dairy was soon sold, the silos torn down and the barn used for storage. The farmhouse remains today where the son and his family live. Their home now looks like its part of a residential development.
This once picturesque farm is now only a memory to me. My uncle and cousin were the proud owners of this farm, which I visited numerous times during my childhood. Unfortunately, it fell to the pressures that cause many farms to be lost.
North Carolina is experiencing an extreme loss of farmland. Since 1990, North Carolina has lost over 14,000 farms. A matter of fact, between 2003 and 2006, 5,500 farms with more than 300,000 acres were lost. This would compare to the total acres in Rowan County (327,300 acres).
Why is it important to preserve farms in Rowan County? By preserving the land that produces the animal and plant products we need for subsistence, it helps to sustain the local economy. Annual receipts from Rowan County farms totaled $43.5 million in 2006. This was primarily for crops and livestock purchased.
Another benefit of agriculture and faming is the county-wide economic impact. Next to commercial use, agriculture more than pays its way in revenue. Residential use, on the other hand, does not generate sufficient reserve to cover the county’s expenses.
When farms are kept in agriculture it maintains the quality of life that many of us enjoy everyday. Rural working landscapes are an integral part of our heritage that must be preserved for future generations. Some farms in Rowan County have been in the family for more than 200 years. Many people, including new residents and tourists enjoy the farmland and open space of our county to live or for recreation.
The consumer today likes to buy locally grown products. Consumers may visit the Downtown Farmers Market; buy pasture beef, pork or poultry; or stop and pick their own fresh produce from local farms. Organically grown produce is also popular with some producers and many will travel a distance to obtain fresh items.
Rowan County is already taking steps to preserve and protect farmland and open space. The Voluntary Farmland Preservation program protects farmland from non-farm development. As of February 2008, 9,242 acres have been enrolled in this program.
The county has the distinction of having the first voluntary agriculture preservation program in the state of North Carolina, beginning in 1990. Many landowners have recognized the need to preserve their land for future generations.
The North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund was provided $8 million in 2007 from the state legislature for farmland conservation and agricultural enterprise programs development. Rowan County farms have applied for some of these funds and hope to hear something later this year.
Some farms in Rowan County are enrolled in federal farmland protection programs, as well as donated conservation easements. It takes a real commitment to lock up your farm into a permanent conservation easement, but those who do have the peace of mind that the land will remain undeveloped forever.
Once farmland and open space is developed it doesn’t come back. Many generations may have worked this land, but future generations may never have the chance. Tomorrow may be too late to do something about this loss.