Wake County is taking strong steps to protect farms and forest land from an increasingly hot development market. The new Farmland Preservation Program aims to conserve Wake County’s nearly 700 farms and help combat North Carolina’s disappointing ranking as the second highest state in the nation for farmland loss.
“Preserving our county’s natural resources is a big priority for us,” said Chair Shinica Thomas of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “That’s why Wake County created an Open Space Plan in 2006 that set a goal of preserving 30% of the county’s land: 165,000 acres. We are more than 80% of the way to that goal. With the Farmland Preservation Program we will double our efforts in preserving our land.”
In the last nine years, Wake County lost 22,964 acres of its farm and forest land – that's almost 20%. If the county continues at its current growth rate, all unprotected land will be developed in the next 25 to 50 years.
“No other county in the state has our combination of both booming urban development and vibrant rural agricultural land, but we must work to preserve this precious balance that makes Wake County truly unique,” said Vickie Adamson, Wake County Commissioner. “Wake County is still a significant agricultural producer, and we should work hard to preserve it and never take it for granted.”
With this new program, the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District will offer two additional conservation options: Enhanced Voluntary Agricultural District (EVAD) and Agricultural Conservation Easement. The EVAD program builds on the existing Voluntary Agricultural District (VAD) program, a voluntary program for landowners who wish to preserve the current status of their agricultural land.
“Wake County already has over 10,000 acres of agricultural land enrolled in the Voluntary Agricultural District program,” said Teresa Furr, Soil & Water Conservation Director. “Now, with our new Farmland Preservation Program, we have two more enhanced options for landowners to save their farmland from development. These new programs will offer more long-term protection for our working farm and forestlands.”
Landowners enrolled in the enhanced program are placing an irrevocable 10-year agreement on their deed to keep the land in agricultural production. To be eligible, tracts of land must be used for bona fide farm purposes and have a minimum of 20 acres of qualified forestry, 10 acres of agriculture, or 5 acres of horticulture.
In return, landowners can receive up to 25% of gross sales from the sale of non-farm products, yet still qualify as a farm under state statute. Participants are also eligible for a higher 90% cost share rate on conservation practices installed through the Soil and Water Conservation District. In addition, they are more likely to receive priority consideration for public and private organizations awarding grant funding.
Another new option for landowners is an agricultural conservation easement. Agricultural conservation easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Land protected by agricultural conservation easements provides additional public benefits, including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.
The Wake County Agricultural Advisory Board administers the Farmland Preservation program in Wake County. The Wake County Board of Commissioners established an Agricultural Advisory Board to help advise the County Commissioners about issues affecting the local farm community. The Agricultural Advisory Board will review, rank and approve applications that are submitted for the program.