NC Crops Growing Stronger Than the Farms Themselves
WEST JEFFERSON, N.C. – Locally grown fruits and vegetables are beginning to make an appearance at farmers' markets in North Carolina at a time when farms are disappearing around the state.
Numbers released this month from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the state losing 2,700 farms from 2007 to 2012.
Although a concern, the rate of farmland lost is slowing, compared with prior years, according to Carol Coulter, director of operations for the National Committee for the New River.
"Farmers were doing really well selling to developers because they have really beautiful land and I think once the economy slowed down, then the whole development scene slowed down, there's really not a market to sell it right now," she explains.
Coulter adds that with land sales slowing, it's a prime opportunity for the state to invest in conservation easements of farmland, which would help keep the land in production for generations to come.
According to the data, the state's existing farms are growing in size – averaging 168 acres, eight more than in 2007.
The market value of the state's agricultural products increased by 22 percent in recent years, but Brian Long, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says with the state gaining about 100,000 people a year, pressure on farmland is increasing.
"There's been so much increased interest in where your food comes from and that's been wonderful,” he says. “But all of those people need places to live and places to shop and roads to drive on."
Coulter says the state's western counties are beginning to see increased farming potential because of a rise in cattle prices and the extreme weather experienced by western states.
"It's tough to grow in the mountains because we're so hilly and steep,” she says. “So cattle, goats, livestock does much better here, and everybody is kind of stepping up and trying to get in the game while there's money to be made."
Western North Carolina is one part of the state that did not see a decline in farmland, and instead saw a slight increase in recent years.
According to the state Department of Agriculture, 78 percent of North Carolina farms have been in operation for 10 years or more.