July 11, 2013. Western North Carolina’s important agricultural lands are in danger of being lost to urban development and population increase, land trust advocates say. Blue Ridge Conservancy has been working to conserve this invaluable natural resource, and so far has made significant progress.
BRC announced today that they have protected more than 3,000 acres of important soils in Western North Carolina, more than 410 of which have been designated as prime soils. NCNR has protected more than 700 acres with more than 70 with the designation of prime soils. The acreage numbers were released as part of an assessment by the Blue Ridge Forever coalition of the more than 43,500 acres of important soils and 4,000 acres of prime soils protected by their coalition partners across the region, which includes BRC and NCNR. BRC, NCNR and other coalition partners work with farmers to voluntarily conserve their land, primarily through conservation easements. These easements allow the farmer to continue to own and farm the land, but restrict sub-dividing the property for development.
“In order for the local food movement to thrive, we need long-term protection of these critical areas,” said Eric Hiegl, Director of Land Protection and Stewardship at Blue Ridge Conservancy. “Protecting these soils is necessary to preserve our cultural and natural heritage.”
Important soils have the capability to produce crops and pasture plants over a long period of time, while prime soils have a specific combination of physical and chemical characteristics, growing season, and moisture supply. These characteristics make prime soils much more desirable for agriculture, and are a priority in land protection. Thanks to the mountain and floodplain systems in western North Carolina, the area boasts a significant amount of prime agricultural soils, a resource that BRC and NCNR are striving to protect.
“Preserving farmland and forestland is important to securing the future of our state’s $77 billion agribusiness industry,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Unless we are proactive in conserving our lands and prime soils used for farming and forestry, we will lose the resources needed to support this vital industry. The N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund is proud to be a partner with Blue Ridge Forever in this important mission.”
In addition to soil quality, BRC strives to conserve land in farming communities where the density of farms in the area allows for services and support between farm owners. The farming community in Alleghany County is a prime example, with almost 3,000 acres of working farmland and forestland in the area. In the 1990’s there were only 17 easements on farms located in western North Carolina. There are now 70 farms protected by BRC in the region.
Agriculture is North Carolina’s leading industry, producing $77 billion annually, but is also one of the nation’s top leaders in farm loss. From 2010 to 2011 the state lost 1,000 farms and 100,000 acres of farmland. This loss of farmland poses a significant threat to agriculture’s long-term viability as well as its economic impact for the state. Unfortunately, western North Carolina is losing farmland more rapidly than the rest of the state. From 2002 to 2007, the region lost a total of eleven percent of its farmland, where the state as a whole lost 7 percent. Agriculture has always been an important part of western North Carolina’s economy and culture, which is why so many in the community are stepping up to speak out about land conservation.
“We urge members of the community who are interested in the long-term vitality of the local foods movement, to get involved with their local land trusts,” said Valerie True, coalition coordinator for Blue Ridge Forever. “Protecting the region’s important farmland and soils will ensure fruitful harvests for generations to come.”
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Blue Ridge Conservancy is a private, nonprofit, non-governmental organization incorporated in North Carolina that works with willing landowners and local communities to permanently protect land and water resources with agricultural, ecological, cultural, recreational, and scenic value. BRC has protected close to 17,000 acres in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey Counties.
National Committee for the New River is a regional, three state, nonprofit that protects and ensures that the New River and all the waters that feed it are clean, that the land supports vibrant and resilient plants and animals, and that the communities that rely on it are passionate and empowered advocates for a healthy New River.
Blue Ridge Forever is a coalition campaign led by local land trusts and national conservation organizations to raise public awareness and financial resources to safeguard land and water in the Southern Blue Ridge for present and future generations. The coalition works in local communities to ensure that critical lands are protected for clean drinking water, recreation, wildlife habitats, tourism, and working farms. To learn more, visitwww.blueridgeforever.info.
Blue Ridge Forever members: Blue Ridge Conservancy, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, National Committee for the New River, Pacolet Area Conservancy, RiverLink, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
National Advisors: The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy (NC Chapter), Trust for Public Land