Johnston County’s Farmland is Threatened, But There is Hope

More state funding could help turn the tide of farmland loss

According to the American Farmland Trust, Johnston County is in the top 20 counties in the nation under the greatest threat of farmland loss by 2040. Development threatens our state’s best agricultural land. The study projects that 71% of Johnston County’s farmland could be lost to conversion in less than two decades.

Farmland loss impacts the state and local economy and has a host of far-reaching implications, including clean air and water, controlling flooding, food and cover for wildlife, and communities’ access to fresh foods. Development choices have a significant effect on the future of farmland and forestland. Safeguarding local farms bolsters the global food system and improves people’s daily lives.

Agriculture is the number one industry in Johnston County. There are more farmers in this area than in any other state. Representative Larry Strickland has seen the impact of farmland loss firsthand. He grew up on a family farm between Pine Level and the Brogdon area and currently co-owns the Strickland Brothers Farm, LLC, with his two brothers.

“I get calls once a week trying to parcel off my land,” Strickland said. “As the 4th generation of my family to work and maintain my family’s farm, it’s more than just dirt to me. It is family. It’s my Father and Mother, Granddaddy and Grandmother.”

Thanks in large part to Rep. Strickland’s efforts, the recently passed state budget increases funding for the NC Department of Agriculture’s farmland preservation fund fourfold, from $5M to $20M in 2024 and adds another $5M the next year, bringing the total funding to $25M in 2025. The new funding could help stem the tide that puts North Carolina second in the nation for potential farmland lost over the next 20 years. Land trusts like Triangle Land Conservancy, using those funds, can partner with landowners to preserve working farms as they’ve done in Johnston County, where they have protected over 5,000 acres of farms.

“Protecting farmland in Johnston County is critical to protecting not only agricultural businesses in the Triangle, but also the natural resources of our entire region,” said Sandy Sweitzer, Executive Director of the Triangle Land Conservancy. “Conservation easements allow for farmers to protect acreage from development and still reap the rewards of their working land.”

The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF) was established in 2005 to support the state’s agricultural economy. The agricultural industry is the number one industry in North Carolina, bringing in more than $91 billion in state revenue. Working family farms are protected from corporate and industrial agricultural development projects through conservation easements and other programs. Since its establishment, over 22,400 acres of working farmland have been protected across North Carolina.

Conservation Wins Big in 2023 Budget

The North Carolina Land for Tomorrow Coalition is praising the 2023 state budget, which will pump more than $100 million per year into land and water conservation.

“Protecting land and water is vital to many of the state’s most important industries, including agriculture, tourism, forestry, and the military,” said Bill Holman, NC State Director for The Conservation Fund and chair of the Coalition. “Increasing access to parks, trails, and greenways will help keep North Carolina a great place to live, work, and play. We all owe the General Assembly, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and Governor Cooper a big thank you.”

“North Carolina is growing fast, and this funding is absolutely essential to protect land and water for future generations,” said Tim Gestwicki, Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “In particular, this budget will help keep many acres of working lands in production by offering additional funding for our state’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, and others who are stewarding their lands for the good of us all.”

The state’s three conservation trust funds, the North Carolina Land and Water Trust Fund (NCLWF), the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF) are essential tools that allow state agencies and nonprofit partners to protect North Carolina’s valuable natural resources.

Conservation funding in the budget includes:

  • Increases recurring funding for the NC Land and Water Fund by $3.8 million, and provides an additional $2 million in nonrecurring funds, bringing the total funding to $30 million.
  • Increases recurring funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund by $3.8 million, and provides an additional $2 million in nonrecurring funds, bringing the total funding to $30 million.
  • Increases funding for the Agriculture Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund by $10 million, bringing the total funding to $20 million.
  • Provides $42 million over the biennium for trails, including $25 million for the Great Trails Program, $5 million for the Complete the Trails fund, and $12 million for the Saluda Grade Trail.
  • Provides $12.5 million for the development of local parks that provide access for people with disabilities.

Land for Tomorrow is a statewide coalition of community leaders, conservation, and wildlife organizations, and parks and recreation advocates with a common goal: increasing land and water conservation in North Carolina.

Haw River Trail Becomes a State Trail

The local favorite joins 12 other distinguished trails across the state.

The Haw River Trail is now an authorized state trail thanks to the perseverance of local advocates, nonprofit organizations, and North Carolina legislators Representative Stephen M. Ross, Senator Amy S. Galey, and Representative Dennis Riddell.

“The Haw River State Trail is a lasting tribute to the power of the community. Dozens of landowners in Alamance County have shared their private property so that everyone can enjoy the beauty and power of the Haw,” said Brian Baker, Assistant County Manager of Alamance County. “Thanks to that commitment, the Haw River has regained its place as the heart of Alamance County.”

The Haw River Trail provides public access to one of North Carolina’s most important natural features. The land and paddle trail allows the community to explore while helping to conserve and protect this vital resource. Local nonprofits Friends of Lower Haw River State Natural Area, Carolina Canoe Club, and The Conservation Fund were critical in orchestrating behind the scenes to make this authorization possible. Both the Alamance and Chatham counties’ board of commissioners adopted resolutions supporting state trail authorization.

“Adding this beloved trail to the state trails program is a special opportunity for Alamance County,” said Representative Ross. “It is a great place to hike and paddle and enjoy the outdoors. Conserving places like the Haw River Trail also gives us cleaner air and cleaner water which will benefit our state for decades to come.”

The Haw River Trail will join 12 other state trails and become part of the North Carolina State Parks system. While a state park is operated and managed by the Division of Parks and Recreation, a state trail comprises multiple connected sections that rely on local partnerships. Each section of the trail is sponsored by a federal, state or local government agency, nonprofit organization, or private landowner.

“State trail status gives the Haw River recognition across North Carolina as a trail of statewide significance,” said Senator Galey. “The state trail designation welcomes attention and economic benefit from tourism and recreation to Alamance County and beyond. The families of North Carolina have a beautiful place to splash and play for future generations.”

The Haw River Trail boasts:

  • 20 miles of completed land trail in Alamance County
  • 40 miles of completed paddle trail in Alamance County
  • 15 recreational parks and trailheads open along the trail in Alamance County
  • 6 public access sites in Chatham County

“It’s the commitment of our North Carolina’s General Assembly to the state’s conservation trust funds that make efforts like this one possible,” said NC State Director of The Conservation Fund Bill Holman, who chairs the Land for Tomorrow Coalition. “We’re also thankful to Representative Ross for being the primary sponsor of a conservation tax credit bill that will soon pass as part of the House budget. Investment in our natural spaces ensures that residents can enjoy and explore all that North Carolina has to offer.”

The planned Haw River Trail corridor extends approximately 80 miles along the Haw River, from Haw River State Park on the Rockingham-Guilford County line through Alamance County to Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in Chatham County. Public access to the Haw River Trail in Chatham County is provided at the Lower Haw River State Natural Area, owned by State Parks and by three public access sites managed by Chatham County Parks and Recreation. The trail in Alamance County is part of the statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail, allowing hikers to travel across the state from Clingman’s Dome in the west to Jockey’s Ridge in the east.

Learn more about:

Conservation Funding is a Necessity

The NC Senate proposed budget shows that conservation funding is a necessity for the state of North Carolina. Investing in our land and water creates a healthier North Carolina for all.

Click here to read the full report or click here to read the special provisions report.

Highlights of this year’s proposed funding:

  • Increases recurring funds for the Land and Water Fund by $3.8 million, bringing it to a total recurring $28 million
  • Increases recurring funds for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund by $3.8 million, bringing it to a total recurring $28 million
  • Provides $15 million in nonrecurring funds in both years of the biennium for farmland preservation
  • Allocates $5 million in nonrecurring funds for the Great Trails program
  • Provides $10 million nonrecurring in the first year of the biennium in accessible parks grants for parks for people with disabilities

Learn more about our 2023 Legislative Agenda.

2023 House’s Budget Shows Conservation is Vital

The recently released proposed budget from the NC House shows that conservation is a priority for the state of North Carolina. Thank you to all of the House members for your strong support in protecting and stewarding our land through conservation trust funds and more.

A few highlights:

  • Increases recurring funding for NCLWF from $24.2 million up to $30 million per year. Also includes an additional $20 million in nonrecurring funds for NCLWF in FY23-24.
  • Increases recurring funding for PARTF from $24.2 million up to $30 million per year. Also includes an additional $20 million in nonrecurring funds for PARTF in FY23-24.
  • Provides an additional $15 million in nonrecurring funds in both years of the biennium for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. This is in addition to the base amount of $5 million recurring per year.
  • Includes a provision to reinstate the conservation tax credit.
  • $25 million in nonrecurring funds in FY23-24 for Great Trails Program.
  • $8 million in nonrecurring funds in FY23-24 for the Complete the Trails Program.
  • $15 million for Parks for People with Disabilities.
  • $17 million in nonrecurring funds for the Saluda Grade Trail.
  • Provides $3.8 million in new recurring funds that goes up to $5.1 in new recurring funds for 37 new FTEs for State Parks, as well as an additional $3.6 million in nonrecurring funds for parks operating reserves.
  • $158,000 recurring for two new FTEs for the Natural Heritage Program.

Learn more about our 2023 legislative agenda and our response to the Governor’s budget.

2023 Governor’s Budget Highlights Strong Support for Conservation Trust Funds

Thank you to Governor Cooper for your strong support of the North Carolina Conservation Trust Funds in your 2023 annual budget. Highlights include:

  • Increases North Carolina Land and Water Fund (NCLWF) and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) recurring funds by $5.8M, bringing both funds up to $30M recurring
  • Adds an additional $25M in nonrecurring funds per trust fund per year
  • Adds a position for NCLWF
  • $25M nonrecurring for Great Trails State Fund
  • $5M to NCLWF for Flood Risk Reduction
  • $5M to NCLWF for Peatlands and Pocosin Restoration
  • For Farmland Preservation, a $2.5M increase in recurring funds, and an additional $20M in nonrecurring funds in the first year
  • In the capital budget, there are also funds for a few specific Parks projects

Read more about his commitment to protecting our natural resources:

2023 Budget Recommendations: https://www.osbm.nc.gov/budget/governors-budget-recommendations

Our 2023 Legislative Agenda

North Carolinians love the outdoors. Visitation to NC State Parks increased to 22,800,000 in 2021 – 3,000,000 more than in 2020. Visitation to state forests, game lands, trails and local parks continues to increase.

The Land for Tomorrow Coalition greatly appreciates the strong support of the General Assembly and Governor for our Conservation Trust Funds and looks forward to working with them in 2023 to build upon our success. Land for Tomorrow recommends the following to the 2023 General Assembly.

NC Land and Water Fund
Increase recurring funds to:

  • $30,000,000 recurring
  • $20,000,000 in non-recurring funds in FY23-24

The Land for Tomorrow Coalition strongly supports NC Land and Water Fund’s flood risk reduction grant program.

  • $15,000,000 to continue NCLWF’s flood risk reduction program

Parks and Recreation Trust Fund

  • $30,000,000 recurring
  • $20,000,000 in non-recurring funds in FY23-24

Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund

  • $15,000,000 recurring as recommended by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler

Great Trails State Funding
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports the Great Trails State Coalition’s request for appropriations to establish the Great Trails State Fund.

Dedicated Funding and Conservation Tax Credit
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports H290: Protecting NC’s Military and Working Lands, which incentivizes land conservation by providing a 25% tax credit to landowners who donate land for conservation purposes. The coalition also supports restoring dedicated funding from state deed excise stamp tax revenues to the Land & Water Fund and Parks & Recreation Trust Fund.

Stewardship of State Lands, Facilities & Funds
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition strongly supports requests by the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, NC Wildlife Resources Commission and Department of Agriculture for staff to manage the conservation trust funds and to manage new state parks, historic sites, game lands and state forests.

Download a PDF of these priorities.

Sen. Brent Jackson Recognized as Land and Water Champion

DURHAM – Sen. Brent Jackson has been recognized as a North Carolina Land and Water Champion by the North Carolina Land for Tomorrow Coalition.

“Sen. Jackson is a steadfast supporter of funding for land and water conservation,” said NC State Director of The Conservation Fund Bill Holman, who chairs the coalition. “His support has been crucial to increasing the dollars available for this vital work.”

Sen. Jackson is one of three state legislators to receive this year’s award. Other awards went to Rep. Larry Strickland and Rep. Kyle Hall. Because of their work, this past year the General Assembly directed well over $300 million towards game lands, working farms, military buffers, local nature preserves, and parks and trails across North Carolina. These legislators also led efforts to restore funding for conservation programs that suffered in the previous economic downturn.

“North Carolinians benefit from these funds through new places to be outdoors—a need that became particularly important in the past few years,” said Holman. “All of us who value North Carolina’s natural resources owe Sen. Jackson gratitude for his support.”

Picture Caption: Representatives of the Land for Tomorrow Coalition recognized Sen. Jackson during a visit to Holly Shelter Game Land, one of the many natural areas that have been protected with funds from the N.C. Land and Water Fund. Pictured left to right: Nature Conservancy Southeast Coastal Plain Director Deb Maurer, Nature Conservancy Government Relations Director Will Robinson, Sen. Jackson’s dog Angel, Nature Conservancy Executive Director Katherine Skinner, Wildlife Resources Commission Legislative Affairs Manager Ashton Godwin, Wildlife Resources Commission Forester Casey Phillips, Friends of The Mountain to Sea Trail Board Member Tammy Proctor, and Pender County Commissioner Dr. Jimmy Tate.

ABOUT LAND FOR TOMORROW COALITION:
Land for Tomorrow is a statewide coalition of community leaders, conservation and wildlife organizations, and parks and recreation advocates with a common goal: increasing land and water conservation in North Carolina. http://www.land4tomorrow.org/

Rep. Kyle Hall Recognized as Land and Water Champion

DURHAM – Rep. Kyle Hall has been recognized as a North Carolina Land and Water Champion by the North Carolina Land for Tomorrow Coalition.

“Rep. Hall is a steadfast supporter of public funding for land and water conservation,” said NC State Director of The Conservation Fund Bill Holman, who chairs the coalition. “His support has been crucial to increasing the dollars available for this vital work.”

Rep. Hall is one of three state legislators to receive this year’s award. Other awards went to Rep. Larry Strickland and Sen. Brent Jackson. Because of their work, this past year the General Assembly directed well over $300 million towards parks and trails, working farms, local nature preserves, game lands, and military buffers across North Carolina. These legislators also led efforts to restore funding for conservation programs that suffered in the previous economic downturn.

“North Carolinians benefit from these funds through new places to recreate—a need that became particularly important in the past few years. That includes strong support for Hanging Rock, Mayo River, and Pilot Mountain state parks, Belews Lake Park, and the establishment of Dan River State Trail,” said Holman. “All of us who value North Carolina’s natural resources owe Rep. Hall gratitude for his support.”

Picture Caption: Representatives of the Land for Tomorrow Coalition recognized Rep. Hall as a North Carolina Land and Water Champion at the Piedmont Land Conservancy’s Shoe Buckle tract on the Dan River, which is one of many natural areas across North Carolina that have been funded by the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. The 850-acre tract will provide river access, eventually becoming part of the Mountains-To-Sea Trail. It will also become a key part of the Dan River State Trail. Pictured from left to right: Piedmont Land Conservancy Board President Will Truslow, Piedmont Land Conservancy Executive Director Kevin Redding, Rep. Kyle Hall, and Piedmont Land Conservancy Conservation Planner Palmer McIntyre.

ABOUT LAND FOR TOMORROW COALITION:
Land for Tomorrow is a statewide coalition of community leaders, conservation and wildlife organizations, and parks and recreation advocates with a common goal: increasing land and water conservation in North Carolina. http://www.land4tomorrow.org/

Prioritizing land and water conservation

Thank you to North Carolina’s governor and legislators for passing a budget that prioritizes land and water conservation. Funding of $48.4 million to the state’s conservation trust funds will benefit people and nature for generations.

Our state’s conservation needs are not one-and-done. The Land for Tomorrow coalition thanks our state leadership for building on the foundation of conservation funding established in 2021. By securing reoccurring funding, every generation now has a chance to have clean air and water as well as beautiful places to play.

Land and water are North Carolina’s most important economic assets. The four engines of North Carolina’s economy – agriculture, tourism, forestry and the military – depend on land and water conservation. Therefore, protecting these vital natural resources is essential to North Carolina’s bottom line – boosting spending and providing jobs.

Our state’s conservation trust funds ensure that the North Carolina Land and Water Trust Fund (NCLWF), Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF) are fully funded to be the safeguards for our state. In addition, these funds enable conservation groups to continue working with state agencies to protect North Carolina’s valuable natural resources, ensuring that both current and future generations will continue to benefit from all our state has to offer.

Thank you to the governor and our legislators for conservation funding of the following:

  • Increases recurring funding for the North Carolina Land and Water Fund by $11 million, taking the total recurring funding from $13.2 million to $24.2 million.
  • Increases recurring funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund by $8 million, taking the total recurring funding from $16.2 million to $24.2 million.

To learn more about the impact of the conservation trust funds and see your tax dollars in action, follow Land for Tomorrow on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/L4TNC – and Twitter – https://twitter.com/land4tomorrow.