Agriculture roots run deep in Rowan County

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2019

By Amy-Lynn Albertson

Rowan County Extension Director

In the early 1800s, agricultural societies were popping up across the state to encourage people to practice new and improved farming techniques.

The Rowan County Society for Agriculture was one of the most active agricultural societies in the state. The society made its members pledge to “to turn his attentions (as much as the situation will allow) to the study of agriculture and on all occasions to impart to the society any improvements or discoveries he may make; also to use every exertion in his power to procure correct models of the most approved farming implements in use in any part of the country.”

The Rowan Society for Agriculture sponsored North Carolina’s first agricultural fair in Salisbury in 1821. After the Civil War much of North Carolina’s agricultural system were devastated. Farms were smaller and Rowan County consumed most of the agricultural products it produced, from dairy to wheat and a limited amount of tobacco.

As more cotton gins came into the area, cotton replaced any tobacco grown and became one of the main crops for Rowan County. The Department of Agriculture was established for the state in 1877 with the mission to promote the agricultural interests of the state.

In 1910, the agriculture census data shows that 90 to 95 percent of Rowan County’s land was in farming. The average size of the farm was 80.2 acres with 3,241 working farms. As we move on through the first World War and the Great Depression in 1935, the number of farms increased to 3,699 with the average size being between 70-90 acres.

Corn was our number one crop and still is today. In the 1950s, the number of farms dropped as well as the average size of a farm. The census data says Rowan County had 3,115 farms with an average size of 76 acres.  By 1969 the number of farms in Rowan County drastically reduced to 1,304 farms and average size of 110 acres.

The farm crisis of the ’80s hit Rowan County hard and many left farming all together. Commodity prices hit record lows and caused many farms to foreclose. By 1987, Rowan County had 823 farms left with an average size of 131 acres.

Since 2002, we have seen a revival in the number of farms in our area. The interest in local foods and preserving our heritage has made farming popular again. In 2012, Rowan County had 1,011 farms with an average size of 120 acres. Through all of this, many families have farmed in Rowan County for over a century. In fact we have 24 farms listed as Century Farms with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

The Century Farm program started in 1970. At that time, the North Carolina State Fair undertook the largest agricultural project in the fair’s history. To highlight the theme of its 1970 State Fair, “Salute to Agriculture,” State Fair officials initiated a search for all families who have owned or operated a farm in North Carolina for 100 years or more.

More than 800 farms qualified as a Century Farm. Today, there are about 52,000 farms in North Carolina, but only a little more than 1,800 have the distinct honor of being a N.C. Century Farm. North Carolina has a rich agricultural heritage and the Century Farm family program celebrates the many contributions farming has made to the state.

In 2016, Commissioner Troxler announced that the department would begin awarding Bicentennial Farm certificates to families who have had a farm in the family for more than 200 years. To receive a bicentennial certificate, the family must submit an application.

Submitted photo A scene from the past at Wetmore Farms. This is William Spence Wetmore, a member of the second generation, with the first artificially inseminated calf in Rowan.

Wetmore Farms in Woodleaf received its century farm designation in 2018. This farm has been in the Wetmore Family since 1908, founded by William H. Wetmore. The farm was originally a cotton and wheat operation. It was a dairy farm in 1930s until 1978, and sold dairy herd.  The Wetmores transitioned to row crops and peach orchard until 1983, when first tomato crop was grown. They have a fifth generation growing produce, corn, soybeans and beef cattle.  There are three generations working on the farm now.

To apply for your Century Farm Status you can go online to If you can show proof through deeds or original land grants that the farm has been in your family for 100 years, you qualify. For more information about the Century Farm Program or other agricultural topics, call the Rowan County Extension Center at 704-216-8970.