Amy-Lynn Albertson: Your help needed with surveys on farmland and the future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 21, 2021

Nov. 15-19 was our celebration of Farm-City Week in Rowan County. All week long, Cooperative Extension posted videos on our Facebook page on Rowan County Agriculture and how it impacts the daily lives of our citizens.

North Carolina Agriculture serves you three times a day. Rowan County is home to 925 farms with an average size of 129 acres, and 97% are family-owned and run.

Surprisingly, when we looked back at the Agricultural Census of 1992, Rowan County had 751 farms with an average size of 140 acres. At that time, 104,874 acres of the total land were farmed, whereas today, that number is 118,914 acres. However, when you look at our population change since that 1992 timeframe, we had roughly 111,000 people living in this county, and now we have over 142,000 people. If we were entirely dependent on Rowan County to support us for food, fiber and fuel, that would mean today, a single farm would need to sustain 154 people on 129 acres. Luckily, we are not dependent on just Rowan County, but our county does produce a lot and will need to continue to do so as our population grows.

I have received many phone calls with concerns about the growing number of houses being built in the western end of Rowan. I often get asked what will happen to all the farmland? As land prices continue to rise and labor is more complex and harder to find, more farmland will inevitably be sold for development. Like any business, farming has to be profitable for someone to continue doing it. While agriculture has many lifestyle benefits, you still have to make enough money to keep the lights on and pay the bills.

Many people enjoy living in Rowan County because of our rural landscape. We have the benefit of being close to major metropolitan areas and still have a small-town feel. What happens when that countryside is dotted with housing developments? It becomes more challenging for the remaining farms to farm, and that small-town feel is gone. This is where strategic planning is essential. Economic growth for the county is vital for our survival. However, that will also bring population growth. How can we have economic and population growth and still keep our rural landscape, preserving our profitable farmland?

Rowan County’s Agricultural Advisory Board is working on this issue with a consulting group from the University of Mount Olive. The goal is to formulate a plan for Rowan County to develop industrially, residentially, and economically while supporting our working farmlands and promoting a robust agricultural community. One of the first steps in creating this “Working Ag Lands Plan” is a survey of the people who live in Rowan County. To that end, we have created three surveys: one for folks in agriculture (meaning they either work/live on a farm), one for folks in agri-business (for example, Farm Credit, Southern States, Hodges and Tractor Supply), and one for non-farm residents.

We need your help to get the data needed to write a solid plan. The surveys can be completed online at http://go.ncsu.edu/rowanworkingaglands or by mail, or you can come by the Cooperative Extension office and fill one out in person. Call us at 704-216-8970 for more information.

Amy-Lynn Albertson is Rowan County Extension director.

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