In the past few weeks, I’m happy to say I have received several calls about interest in the Voluntary Agricultural District program. While many of us believe that farmland preservation is critical to Sampson County and much of North Carolina, the program which was put in place sixteen years ago to do just that, is underutilized in Sampson County.
Here’s a bit of background on the program: The Farmland Preservation Program was established by the General Assembly of North Carolina, authorizing counties to establish programs to support and encourage the preservation of farmland – hence, the Voluntary Agricultural Districts Program. The statutory authority is found in Chapter 106, Article 61, of the NC General Statutes. In Sampson, The Voluntary Agricultural District Program began in 2001, and is governed by an agricultural board, comprised of one member of each of the five agricultural districts, as well as the county extension director and the district conservationist of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the county. The districts are aligned with the Sampson County school districts. The board is appointed by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners. The agricultural board will be responsible for approving applications for membership into each agricultural district.
What are the requirements of enrollment?
The farmland must be a minimum of twenty-five contiguous acres. The land must be enrolled in the farm present-use value taxation program. The land additionally must be certified as having soils which are favorable for major crops grown in the county, and which two-thirds of the land have been actively utilized for agricultural, horticultural, forestry, livestock, or wildlife. The property and its owner is then subject to a conservation agreement, in which the landowner agrees to “sustain, promote, and encourage agriculture in the district, and support protection against nuisance suits, undesired non-farm development, and other negative impacts on participating farms”.
There is a one time, $35 enrollment fee, which covers a portion of the cost of one farm sign to post and designate the farm as being enrolled, along with the documentation filing costs with the county Register of Deeds office. Additional signs may be purchased at a cost of $20 each.
What are benefits of enrollment in the program?
The program will help increase the awareness, identity, and pride of being part of the agricultural community and its way of life. Members will have increased protection from nuisance suits and other potential negative impacts on their farmland, and landowners will not be required to connect to the county water system or assessed charges for such, unless the farm chooses to connect to such services.
If you have farmland in Sampson County, are you enrolled? I would like for those of us committed to sustaining, supporting, and promoting farmland and agriculture in Sampson to consider this. We have over 600 thousand acres in Sampson County, with approximately half of these acres in farm or forest land. To date, the total acreage enrolled in the Sampson County Voluntary Agricultural District program is 20,388 at 83 different locations. With less than 7% of our farmland currently enrolled, I would like to see this number grow. Wouldn’t you? For anyone interested in learning more about the program, enrollment, promotion of the program, or serving on the VAD board of directors, please contact us at the Sampson County Extension Center at 910-592-7161 or stop by our office, located at 55 Agriculture Place, just off highway 421, one mile south of Clinton.
Eileen Coite is the county extension director for the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center.