From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
September marks the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years, but the trust fund has accomplished a lot in that time. While it is good to celebrate what we have accomplished to date, our work is far from being finished.
I am grateful the N.C. General Assembly has invested $20.5 million in the program since 2005. Because of their support, we have been able to preserve nearly 10,000 acres since 2005, and have an additional 4,358 acres under contract for easements. That translates into 115 easements on properties in 31 counties.
Preserving farmland to ensure the next generation has the natural resources it needs to produce food, fiber and fuel is a topic that comes up regularly in discussions I have with my peers in other states.
States have so many immediate needs, it is sometimes difficult to get support for efforts that are focused on results so far down the road. But the challenge is, if we do not begin to address this issue now, we may wake up in 20 years and find that the best, most productive farmland is now under asphalt or a house.
We are blessed in North Carolina to have high quality farmland. But these lands face constant pressure from development, especially around our large cities, in our mountains and near our coast. The same natural resources and beauty that make this a great state to live in, attracts others from outside our state to visit and even relocate.
New arrivals and a growing population demand more development, which is evidenced by new shopping centers, new subdivisions and new schools and services.
Back when I called on members of the General Assembly to create and fund the ADFPTF, we were leading the country in the numbers of farms lost, with more than 97,000 farms. In comparison, the second-closest state was Iowa with 52,000 farms lost. Those figures were based on U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers from 1970 to 2010.
During that same period, we ranked third in the number of acres of farmland lost with 6.6 million acres.
This was a disturbing trend, and one we needed to begin to sound the alarm about. Farmland preservation remains a top priority for my administration. I would like to be able to fund more even easements and assist communities in developing voluntary ag districts. In each grant cycle, we receive far more requests than we have funding for.
In my opinion, the efforts of the trust fund could easily be doubled or tripled and we would still only be scratching the surface of farmland preservation needs.
As our economy continues to improve, I would like to see us make an even bigger investment in farmland preservation efforts. My counterparts in Ohio and Pennsylvania are also focused on farmland preservation and their programs have enjoyed strong support.
In Ohio, from 2002 to 2014, the state reports 45,576 acres preserved through agricultural easements. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget for 2015-2016 seeks a $30-million investment for agricultural easements, which would be a 9-percent increase in current funding.
I am encouraged by our efforts so far, and with the relationships we have developed through this process. We have been able to leverage our grant funds to match funds with other programs. We also have developed cooperative relationships with our military bases, as we have found farmland meets some of the military’s needs.
As we begin the trust fund’s next decade, we remain committed to farmland preservation efforts, and I hope to report even greater success in the future.
The grant cycle for 2016-2017 will begin accepting applications in mid October, with a mid December deadline.