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.