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Agricultural Review

Census shows North Carolina lost more than half a million acres of farmland from 2002-2007

North Carolina lost more than 600,000 acres of farmland from 2002 to 2007, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts an agricultural census every five years, and the results of the 2007 survey were released in February. The new census reported 8.5 million acres of farmland in the state, compared with 9.1 million acres in 2002.

“When you lose that many acres, it means not just small farms are losing land, the large farms are shedding land, too,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. “To put 600,000 acres in perspective, it’s like taking Sampson County off the map.”

The census doesn’t contain details about what happened to the farmland, but Troxler suspects a lot of it was sold for development. “The state has added a million people since 2000, and they all need homes to live in, roads to drive on and places to shop,” he said. “Farmland is the first place developers look.”

Buncombe, Edgecombe, Hyde, Moore and Perquimans counties led the state in farmland loss, with each seeing decreases of greater than 20,000 acres. Urban counties such as Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake saw decreases of between 5,000 and 20,000 acres each.

The 2007 census was the first attempt to extensively count very small family farms, said Herb Vanderberry, state director of agricultural statistics. As a result, the census included small farms that had not been counted previously.

In 2007, North Carolina had 52,900 farms, compared with 53,900 in 2002, the census showed. “Even with the effort to turn up every farm possible, North Carolina still showed a net loss of farms over that five-year period,” Troxler said.

Other census findings:

  • The number of tobacco farms across the state dropped by almost 70 percent, from 8,000 in 2002 to 2,600 in 2007. The end of the federal price support system for tobacco in 2004 led to the retirement of many tobacco farmers, while others shifted from tobacco to other commodities, Troxler said. The result was consolidation in tobacco farming, with the remaining growers getting bigger. Despite the drop in their numbers, farmers harvested 174,000 acres of tobacco in 2008, the most since 1999.
  • The number of cotton farms dropped nearly 40 percent, from 2,100 to 1,300. In 2007, North Carolina saw a jump in corn production and a corresponding drop in cotton production as growers took advantage of higher prices for grains, Troxler said. The census reflects this shift.
  • The state has 34,000 farms with sales of $1,000 to $1 million, down 12 percent from the previous census. Sixty-five percent of N.C. farms fall into this category and account for 26 percent of total sales.
  • The number of farms with sales of more than $1 million jumped 87 percent, to 2,800. These farms account for 74 percent of all sales, but only 5 percent of farms.
  • The number of farms with sales of less than $1,000 increased 18 percent, to 15,900. These farms account for 30 percent of all N.C. farms, but less than 1 percent of total sales.
  • The average age of a North Carolina farmer is 57, compared with 56 in 2002.
  • Women now account for 13 percent of all farm operators, up 3 percent from 2002.
  • Family farms account for 97 percent of all farms. About 85 percent are classified as small family farms.

Census information is available online at

NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Andrea Ashby, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3001; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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