You may have heard this sobering statistic before: Since 2005, North Carolina has led the nation in loss of farms and farmland. Land pressures from development and urban sprawl threaten the viability of our farms and agricultural communities. ASAP knows that available farmland and good soils are the backbone of our local food economy. Blue Ridge Forever is a local organization that works to protect the land and waterways of Western North Carolina. Find out how to join your local land trust and preserve farmland in Western North Carolina.
Farmland preservation tools include:
- Tax breaks such as present use value (PUV) program and federal and state tax incentives for farmland,
- Participation in voluntary and enhanced voluntary agricultural districts (VADs and EVADs), and
- Conservation easements for working lands.
Conservation incentive programs also exist, targeted to specific water conservation and land protection priorities.
More than a hundred families have permanently conserved their land with the help of the land trusts of Western North Carolina. These protected farms range from Christmas tree farms in Ashe County to cattle farms in Macon County, horse farms in Polk County, and vegetable farms in Buncombe County. Some have been owned by the same family for generations while a few were protected by non-farmers who so value our agricultural heritage that they are leasing the land to young farmers at little to no charge to keep the land in farming.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between the landowner and a qualified land trust or public agency under which:
- The landowner agrees to maintain the land available for agriculture and/or forestry uses, and to restrict subdivision and non-agricultural development activities on the land.
- The land trust or public agency agrees to monitor the easement to ensure that its terms are met.
How do conservation easements work?
Conservation easements may be donated by the landowner or purchased by the land trust depending on the availability of funding. In order to qualify for most tax incentives, the easement must be permanent, and at least a portion of the easement value must be donated.
Every easement is different and is tailored to the priorities of the landowner and the conservation organization or government agency. Your local Land Trust or Soil and Water District can provide you with more detailed consultation regarding the prospect of placing a working lands conservation easement on your farm.
What are the benefits to landowners?
- Landowners who donate a conservation easement may be eligible for state and federal tax incentives, as well as estate tax benefits.
- Landowners who sell the development rights to their property through a conservation easement may use the funds to invest in production capacity, increasing the productivity and profitability of their farm, and contributing to the local economy.
- Landowners retain the right to farm, hunt, fish and log their land, in accordance with best management practices.
- Landowners are still eligible for federal and state farm programs, including participation in Voluntary and Enhanced Voluntary Agricultural Districts and present use value taxation programs.
- Landowners retain the right to restrict public access to their land.
What are the benefits to the community?
- Farmland preservation ensures a viable land base for our community food system.
- Farmland generates more tax revenues relative to expenditure for local governments. For example, for every tax dollar that residential development generates, it costs any given county an average of $1.67 in municipal services. Farming the same land would cost as little as twenty-one cents in services for each tax dollar generated.
- Agriculture contributes to local economies directly through sales, job creation, support services and businesses, and also by supplying lucrative potential secondary markets such as food processing.
- Agritourism is a growing industry, and agriculture contributes to the overall appeal of Western North Carolina, playing a vital role in the tourism industry.