Preserving farmland in the Southeast is likely to be a bigger challenge in the future and nowhere is it a bigger concern than in North Carolina, which loses more farmland to industry and other sources each year than any other state in the country.

North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler is a North Carolina farmer and has seen first-hand the downside of losing agriculture land and infrastructure.

He urges county governments and non-profit groups pursuing farmland preservation projects to apply for funding assistance from the North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.

The North Carolina Commissioner says the deadline for application for these funds is Dec. 17. Applications and guidelines for the current funding cycle are available online at www.ncadfp.org or by calling 919-707-3071.

“The General Assembly appropriated $1.7 million annually to the trust fund in the 2011-13 state budget, and we are hopeful these appropriations will continue. Many communities across the state have developed voluntary agricultural districts because they recognize the importance of protecting farmland. We want to encourage more preservation efforts through the trust fund,” Troxler says.

The trust fund’s purpose is to support projects that encourage the preservation of qualifying agricultural, horticultural and forest lands to foster the growth, development and sustainability of family farms.

Grants can be awarded to secure agricultural conservation easements on lands used for agricultural production; to support public and private enterprise programs that promote profitable and sustainable agricultural, horticultural and forestland activities; and for the development of agricultural plans.

“Less than 2 percent of the world’s population currently farms, and our population continues to grow. It is imperative that we preserve farmland to meet the growing global demand for food,” said Troxler.

The Commissioner says there are some very valid reasons why this money is available and for why farm-based organizations should use them. Troxler says:

• Seventeen percent of the state’s workforce is enrolled in agriculture/agribusiness related jobs.

• Agriculture/agribusiness comprises 20.3 percent of the state’s income and is the No. 1 industry in the state at $68 billion.

• The state’s forest products industry is the largest manufacturing industry in North Carolina.

• Forest products industries paid annual wages of $3.6 billion.

• North Carolina’s green industry contributes $8.6 billion to the state’s economy.

• The green industry employs nearly 152,000 people across the state.

“North Carolina lost 1 million acres of forestland between 1990 and 2002, three quarters of this loss to urban development. Since 2002, North Carolina has lost more than 6,000 farms and 300,000 acres of farmland. This puts North Carolina in the unenviable position of leading the nation in farm loss,” Troxler concludes.

rroberson@farmpress.com