Gaston & Catawba

Catawba works to save farms

As Catawba County loses more and more farms to development, county leaders are once again considering a program to save land for agricultural uses.

County planners are finishing work on a proposal to introduce voluntary farm preservation districts, a program already in place in surrounding counties and in 62 of the 100 counties in North Carolina.

The concept is meant to encourage farmers to stay in business and to prevent disputes between them and their nonfarming neighbors.

Farmers would apply to have their farm in a district, agreeing to continue farming their land for 10 years. They could always withdraw from the program with no penalties.

Signs would be placed in the districts to let people know they're in farm country. Paper maps in county agencies and details on the county's computerized mapping system would also serve as notice to people doing property title searches and the like.

The idea is to prevent people from moving in nearby who dislike the smells, slow-moving vehicles and other features of farm life.

The county would work with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in administering the program and appoint a volunteer board to accept district applications and work with both groups on general farming issues.

Agricultural officials say they like the farm preservation district concept, including proposed measures giving farmers extra protection from encroachment.

When the county considered adopting a farm district program in 2005, the Farm Bureau asked county commissioners to postpone action. Officials wanted the county to consider a provision giving farmers more say in public condemnation proceedings affecting farmland, such as water and sewer line projects.

The Farm Bureau also wanted the county to wait for imminent changes on the state level that gave farmers more incentives to be in farm preservation districts.

Three years later, Catawba's new proposal addresses both issues. It includes farmers early in the process in public projects potentially affecting their land. And it incorporates a provision that would qualify farmers for state and federal funds for farm improvements if they join a district.

“I'm real pleased with it,” said Clarence Hood, president of the Catawba County Farm Bureau and a semi-retired beef cattle farmer. “You have to have some carrots for people to be involved and join it.”

Like many area counties, Catawba has lost a lot of farmland in recent decades to home and business development. The most recent agricultural census, in 2002, showed the county had 715 farms, but in the 40 years ending in 1997, it lost more than 40,000 acres of farmland, a quarter of that between 1992 and 1997.

County leaders hope the preservation district program would slow that trend.

Planners expect to meet with the county planning board this month and to present their proposal to county commissioners in October, with the goal of starting the program Jan. 1.

As Catawba County loses more and more farms to development, county leaders are once again considering a program to save land for agricultural uses.

County planners are finishing work on a proposal to introduce voluntary farm preservation districts, a program already in place in surrounding counties and in 62 of the 100 counties in North Carolina.

The concept is meant to encourage farmers to stay in business and to prevent disputes between them and their nonfarming neighbors.

Farmers would apply to have their farm in a district, agreeing to continue farming their land for 10 years. They could always withdraw from the program with no penalties.

Signs would be placed in the districts to let people know they're in farm country. Paper maps in county agencies and details on the county's computerized mapping system would also serve as notice to people doing property title searches and the like.

The idea is to prevent people from moving in nearby who dislike the smells, slow-moving vehicles and other features of farm life.

The county would work with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in administering the program and appoint a volunteer board to accept district applications and work with both groups on general farming issues.

Agricultural officials say they like the farm preservation district concept, including proposed measures giving farmers extra protection from encroachment.

When the county considered adopting a farm district program in 2005, the Farm Bureau asked county commissioners to postpone action. Officials wanted the county to consider a provision giving farmers more say in public condemnation proceedings affecting farmland, such as water and sewer line projects.

The Farm Bureau also wanted the county to wait for imminent changes on the state level that gave farmers more incentives to be in farm preservation districts.

Three years later, Catawba's new proposal addresses both issues. It includes farmers early in the process in public projects potentially affecting their land. And it incorporates a provision that would qualify farmers for state and federal funds for farm improvements if they join a district.

“I'm real pleased with it,” said Clarence Hood, president of the Catawba County Farm Bureau and a semi-retired beef cattle farmer. “You have to have some carrots for people to be involved and join it.”

Like many area counties, Catawba has lost a lot of farmland in recent decades to home and business development. The most recent agricultural census, in 2002, showed the county had 715 farms, but in the 40 years ending in 1997, it lost more than 40,000 acres of farmland, a quarter of that between 1992 and 1997.

County leaders hope the preservation district program would slow that trend.

Planners expect to meet with the county planning board this month and to present their proposal to county commissioners in October, with the goal of starting the program Jan. 1.

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