Three Rivers awarded over $2M to save family farms

Published 4:38 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2023

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President John F. Kennedy once said that the farmer is “the only man in our economy who must buy everything he buys at retail — sell everything he sells at wholesale — and pay the freight both ways.”

Accounting for nearly 20% of the overall gross state product, North Carolina agricultural lands are indispensable. They are the visible embodiment of the largest economic sector in our state, grossing more than $100 billion in economic value.

“While there may not be a building or parking lot in the rural fields of our state, make no mistake, they are North Carolina’s number one industry,” said Travis Morehead, executive director of TRLT.

Between 2001 and 2016, 732,000 acres of farmland in North Carolina were developed or compromised. That means that NC lost or compromised 5.5 acres of farmland every hour for 15 years. If we continue to grow as we have historically, it is projected NC will lose another 1.1 million acres of farmland by 2040 according to the American Farmland Trust.

“The rapid loss of agricultural lands is why we have dedicated significant resources to permanently conserve family farms in our region,” Morehead said. “When we lose a farm to development, we lose our region’s character and our way of life.”

Three Rivers Land Trust submitted several applications this year to the NC Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation (NCADFP) Trust Fund, and the USDA Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) for the purchase of farmland conservation easements and has been awarded funds for five of these farms.

In August 2023, the federally funded USDA ACEP program awarded $977,812 to Three Rivers Land Trust for the protection of a dairy farm in Iredell County. This first phase protects 380 acres of the farm with more portions of the farm anticipated to be conserved in the future. Since 2003, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of dairies in the United States, with a loss of more than half of licensed dairy operations and now there are just shy of 32,000 dairy operations in the entire United States.

Protecting farms with purchased conservation easements helps ensure these operations continue to be economically sustainable.

In October, the state-funded NCADFP Trust Fund awarded funds to TRLT for four farms totaling $1,459,422. This includes two small grain farms totaling 169 acres in Cabarrus County, a 45-acre beef cattle farm in Davidson County and a 75-acre sheep farm in Moore County.

“We are incredibly excited to have been awarded funds for these projects,” Associate Director Crystal Cockman said. “Without the support of these grant agencies, TRLT corporate partners like Chick-fil-A and SC Johnson Company, and TRLT members, our ability to conserve our region’s farms would not exist.”

The total award from these farmland grant agencies totals $2,457,234 and will protect 659 acres.

This is all funding that will go to landowners for the permanent conservation of their properties. To learn more about how to conserve lands or how support Three Rivers Land Trust in its conservation mission, contact Emily Callicutt, senior land protection specialist at Three Rivers Land Trust, by calling 704-647-0302 or by email at