North Carolina – FORSYTH COUNTY
Countywide program – Formed in 1984 – researched by Deborah Bowers
OVERVIEW – Forsyth County’s Farmland Preservation Program is the only program in North Carolina, and perhaps the only one south of Virginia, to have acquired more than 1,000 agricultural easement acres by 2002. Land trusts and a few other county governments in North Carolina hold a small number of easements, some with funds appropriated since l998-1999 by state government and administered by the nonprofit Conservation Trust for North Carolina. The Forsyth program was created almost 20 years ago to strengthen the local agricultural economy, but it has accumulated only a little more than 1,200 easement acres. For most of its history the program was funded exclusively by county general appropriations. State funds were provided in 1999-2000 for two acquisitions as part of a demonstration project and federal funds were received in 1998-2000. But the Forsyth program has not been funded since 2000 and the last easement was acquired in 2001. A unique feature is the program’s administration by the countywide soil and water conservation district, although county government has ultimate responsibility. Forsyth County is centered around the city of Winston-Salem, one of North Carolina’s largest. Tobacco has been the top crop, although the problems of that industry have left hundreds of farm fields idle in the county. Agriculture is also affected by growth pressures around Winston-Salem, where two interstate highways meet, and from urbanization around the city of Greensboro in neighboring Guilford County.
EASEMENT ACTIVITY – 1,255 agricultural acres preserved on 27 properties. Commodities are equine, cattle, vegetables, greenhouse, tobacco and grain crops. Not included in this total are 350 acres protected by the county under 25-year “lease agreements” -an early option no longer available.
Goals: 30,000 acres-initially set by the Soil and Water Conservation Board.
Other Easement Programs: Unknown.
Acquisition Spending to Date: $2.6 million
Revenues: General appropriations by county government (81 percent), federal funds (13 percent), state funds (6 percent). County funds have not been appropriated since 2000. Federal Farmland Protection Program funds were received in 1998-2000. Forsyth received $167,000 in state funds in 1999-2000 for two easement purchases. This was part of a $750,000 purchase of development rights (PDR) demonstration project administered by the nonprofit Conservation Trust for North Carolina that was continued with additional funds in 2001-2002. Two easements were donated by landowners, accounting for a total of 17 acres and valued at $46,000.
GOVERNANCE – The five-member Forsyth County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors acts on behalf of the county in administering the program, with the County Board of Commissioners maintaining ultimate responsibility. Three members of the district board are elected locally, and two are appointed by the state Soil and Water Commission.
STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET – The program is staffed by the administrator of the Soil and Water Conservation District, who spends about 10 percent of his time on easement activities. Annual operating costs are estimated at about $5,000.
ORIGINS – In 1983, in response to extensive farmland loss, Forsyth County Commissioners created an agricultural committee to examine the problem and recommend solutions. The committee adopted an Agricultural Land Preservation Plan, which called for the creation of a PDR program. The program was established and funded the following year. Guidelines were adopted in August 1986 and the first easements were purchased in June 1987.
ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY – The conservation district board reviews applications and makes offers to the top ranked properties as funding allows. Applications are accepted at all times and are funded, after approval, in the order received. There is no geographical targeting. Little discretion beyond the quantitative weights is applied in the process.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative. The district board uses Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) rankings to prioritize applications for funding. Up to 700 points can be attained for prime soils, and up to 1,000 points can be attained for site assessment.
Other Criteria: Location in a designated Agricultural Priority Area, based on soils and sufficient contiguous agricultural lands, is a minimum requirement. Areas are designated by the conservation district board and are scattered throughout the county.
CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES – Agriculture gets very little mention in the county’s comprehensive plan. But Agricultural Priority Areas are designated by county government and are used as the minimum eligibility criterion for funding easement projects.
Zoning: There is no agricultural protection zoning in the county. Residences on farms can be developed at one-acre density, if roadway access standards are met.
2000 Population: 288,810
1990-2000 Population Change: +22,310 residents; +8 percent
51,091 acres: 84 percent cropland
Conversion to Urban Use: Comparative conversion data not available.
OTHER AGRICULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS
1997 Market Value: $16.2 million Number of Farms: 621
Principal Commodities: Tobacco, corn
MAP NARRATIVE – EASEMENT GEOGRAPHY (Map not available)
Easements are scattered around the periphery of the county, outside the urbanizing area of Winston-Salem. The largest number are located in the county’s northeast quadrant.