County Approves New Plan for Protecting Farmlands
The Moore County Board of Commissioners has approved a plan that could protect the county’s farmlands and promote the agricultural economy.
The Moore County Working Lands Protection Plan assesses local farm and forest industries, identifies their challenges and opportunities, and develops strategies to protect and promote the agricultural economy.
The plan helps landowners preserve farmlands and open space.
“We are very pleased that we received board approval, and we hope to have access to $1.7 million in state funds that are available to 40 participating counties to put the plan in place by October,” said Jonathan Russell, natural resources administrator with the Moore County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“This is a grant-type process which requires a 15 percent match between landowners and the trust fund. Landowners can apply for a conservation easement to protect their property from future development, and there are other opportunities under this plan to support local farmers through the establishment of farmers markets and through school programs as well. This is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Russell said that landowners and others interested in preserving the county’s farmlands can contact him to discuss the options available under the plan.
Prior to the board’s approval earlier this month, Commissioners Chairman Larry Caddell asked Russell if there was anything in the plan that would “hurt farmers in this county in any way, shape, form or fashion.”
“No, not at all,” Russell said from the speaker’s podium. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I couldn’t go back home if I would bring forth some kind of plan that would impose restrictions on somebody down the road.”
But Commissioner Nick Picerno questioned that position.
“I heard ‘would not impose restrictions’ but I think that is what this does. If someone applies for this preservation trust, aren’t they in essence giving up a right to get the money?”
“This is in reference to conservation easements?” Russell asked. “In a nutshell, it removes development rights from that piece of property where it could not be developed in the future, but it can still be farmed and timbered.”
“But he is still giving up right to develop,” Picerno said. “It’s voluntary, but it is with the caveat of money being exchanged for that voluntary commitment. I’m getting something for my voluntary act.”
“It’s nothing more than an option,” said Commissioner Tim Lea. “You don’t have to agree to it.”
Lea said he was ready to support the program.
“As a farmer of timber and Black Angus livestock, I see in this plan something that will potentially give me an avenue that I don’t have available to me now. I see no reason why this board would not want to at least endorse this as another option to … help farmers.”
But Commissioner Craig Kennedy remained unconvinced that the plan would be beneficial.
“I would hope that it (the nondevelopment clause) is very carefully explained to a landowner,” Kennedy said. “When you go into business you accept a risk.
“I appreciate the committee’s work, and I don’t have an issue with the plan itself. My issue is with the funding of the plan, and where the money comes from, because today we borrow money from China or wherever and we give it away. This program causes me to ask what are we doing restricting development on these peoples’ properties.
“When you’re in business as a farmer, you accept the risk, you go out and borrow money. We shouldn’t be looking for handouts. That’s my biggest issue. I can’t support this plan based on where the funds are coming from.”
Picerno asked if an amendment could be added to raise landowner awareness of the restriction.
“Can you put in an action that says our plan will notify and make the landowner aware of the future property rights they are potentially relinquishing? Ten years later a son might say, ‘Why did my parents sign this agreement? Walmart is ready to give me $6 million for the property and I can’t even make the farm work.’ Can we add that?”
The amendment was added so that landowners would be fully informed of the potential impact on their heirs regarding the removal of development rights and associated issues such as reduced land value.
County Planning and Community Development Director Debra Ensminger addressed the board prior to the vote.
“The intent of this plan is neither to limit nor restrict landowners’ rights and uses,” Ensminger said, “(but) is intended to serve as a guide for actions to provide landowners and residents an increased awareness of farmland preservation opportunities and agricultural awareness.”
In 2008, agriculture was a $74 billion dollar industry in the state, Ensminger said, with Moore County generating $373 million of the state’s economic activity in regard to agriculture during that year. That total represented 15 percent of the county’s economic activity.
“Six thousand jobs are related to agriculture and agri-business in the county, equating to 13 percent of the county’s jobs,” Ensminger said.
“From 1990 to 2010, Moore County grew from 59,013 to 88,247 persons, equating to almost a 50 percent increase in population. This past growth and future projected growth places significant pressure on our county’s farms and forests to convert to nonagricultural uses, many of which do not generate revenue equal to the agricultural industry.”
Ensminger said recent federal initiatives that will lead to more growth at neighboring Fort Bragg could increase development pressure on Moore’s agricultural lands.
“In 2005 the Department of Defense initiated a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) effort that, according to their plans, will have brought over 40,000 new military employees and civilians to the region by 2013. This factor will place an even greater pressure on the county’s farms and forests to convert to nonagricultural uses.”
To help formulate a plan to protect these lands, the North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund provided a $400,000 grant to the Base Realignment and Closure Regional Task Force, Inc. (BRAC-RTF) to implement a regional working lands protection strategy for all 11 counties in the Fort Bragg region, including Moore County.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or email@example.com.
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