From that plan came countywide zoning to protect all property owners.
Now there is concern that loving the farm land by non-farmers could love it to death.
A compromise is being sought so all residents, farmers and non-farmers alike, can live in harmony through the development of Voluntary Agricultural Districts.
Mailing 300 surveys to selected residents of Richmond County seeking views on farming activities is the beginning of designing a specific plan to protect and promote farming in the county.
“We are taking a proactive stand when it comes to agricultural interests in Richmond County,” said Clinton McRae, director, county Cooperative Extension Service.
The view of agriculture in Richmond County in the future may well be defined by the initiative under way to develop a Working Lands Protection Plan, the first step toward creating districts.
In a time when jobs are a top priority in the county, where do farms fit into the picture as an industry?
Is agriculture playing an increasing or decreasing role in Richmond County, or is it just changing?
A three-part survey is being conducted by representatives from Mount Olive College to find answers related to those questions.
The overall goal of the survey is to prepare a County Agricultural Development and Farmland Protection Plan — also known as a Working Lands Protection Plan — to submit to county commissioners.
Paige Burns, extension agent for agriculture and horticulture, said while the county may not have pressing needs to protect farming as much as some other more metropolitan counties, the plan would put the county “ahead of the eight ball” if needed in the future.
The three separate surveys are:
n Agricultural Producer Survey
n Agricultural Business Survey
n Non-farm Resident Survey
The Extension office has been given 100 copies of each. The staff will use names on extension mailing lists, those of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce and other agencies to receive copies of the survey pertaining to them.
The first goal is to encourage recipients to respond to the survey. McRae said a cover letter from his office will encourage a response.
The final goal of the plan is to create the Voluntary Agricultural Districts in Richmond County.
Such VADs are being promoted statewide by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The local initiative is being financed through a grant given to the Base Realignment and Closure Regional Task Force of Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base. The Extension office so far is just assisting with the survey distribution.
BRAC is a group working to protect the training mission of Fort Bragg and Pope AFB through planning in the 11-county area surrounding the bases. As the mission expands, the base needs to protect itself from further incompatible development within a five-mile limit of its borders.
While Richmond County is on the fringe of the area, and little economic development is expected in the county as a result of expansion of the base operations for years to come, there is immediate concern within a five-mile zone of Camp Mackall in Richmond County.
And, BRAC has done studies on telecommunications towers in relation to military flight patterns in the county.
The state has given BRAC money to conduct farm studies in counties lacking them, and Richmond County is included at no cost to the county.
“We are in the very early stages of this project,” McRae said. “I’m sure we will be asked to participate more after the survey results have been studied and a local plan is proposed to meet local needs.”
He expects to be involved in presenting a proposed plan to county commissioners.
As population increases, there is an effort statewide to balance development with protecting natural resources and farmland.
“Counties are recognizing that working lands (farms) are very important to our state’s economy and environment,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
“Farmland provides stability for local governments. New schools, roads and fire and police protection go hand-in-hand with new development,” he said, “whereas privately-owned and managed farmland requires very few public services.”
Troxler said surveys show that for every dollar in taxes received from working lands, local governments spend only 34 cents in services.
Money for the survey in Richmond County has been provided in part by an overall $400,000 grant from the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund which will be used for 11 counties in the area.
The county commissioners, when presented a plan developed by the Mount Olive College surveyors and local interests, will be given the option of creating a Voluntary Agricultural District ordinance to encourage the preservation of farmland.
Population growth projected between 2005 and 2012 in the counties of concern to Fort Bragg is to be the least in Richmond County.
Such growth is projected at an increase of 686 people in Richmond County compared to increases of 26,444 in Cumberland, 22,323 in Harnett, 14,733 in Hoke, 13,597 in Moore and 1,051 in Scotland counties.
Working with the regional task force on the plan in Richmond County — as an in-kind contribution — will be staff from the Planning and GIS Department, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Soil and Water Conservation District and Economic Development Office.
Rick Sago, county director of economic development, said while his office rarely becomes involved in agricultural matters, farming is always a consideration in locating new industries.
“We recognize the importance of agriculture as an overall industry in the economy of Richmond County,” he said.
As an example of what may be proposed in Richmond County, adjoining Moore County has a VAD plan in effect.
Its stated purpose is to “heighten identity and pride in the agricultural community and its way of life, and to increase protection from nuisance lawsuits and other negative impacts on properly-managed farms.”
In addition to establishing agricultural districts, an ordinance could create an Agricultural Advisory Board in Richmond County which would then advise county commissioners on issues affecting the agricultural economy.
In Moore County some benefits of a VAD are:
n Land buyers have to be notified that a bona fide farming operation exists nearby.
n The advisory board gives farmers a unified voice with county planning issues.
n No land in a VAD can be condemned for public use without a hearing.
n Stricter protection for farmland encroached by development is a condition for development.
n VAD areas can receive priority for conservation funds.
Participation in a VAD by farmers is voluntary and enrollees can leave the designation at will.
The local advisory board could be given authority through an adopted county ordinance to:
n Review and make recommendations concerning the establishment and modification of an agricultural district.
n Review and make recommendations concerning any ordinance or amendment adopted or proposed for adoption of concern to farming interests.
n Hold public hearings on public projects likely to have an impact on agricultural operations.
Its role would strictly be to advise the county commission on agricultural issues.
To be in a VAD, a farm would have to be taxed in Richmond County as a farm operation and managed in accordance with Soil Conservation Service erosion control practices.
The farm in a VAD would be in an agreement with the county to prohibit non-farm use or development for at least 10 years on the farm.
An advantage for participating farms statewide is that they would be eligible for farmland preservation funds as they become available.
And, such farms are eligible to receive a higher percentage of cost-share funds under the Agriculture Cost Share Program.
James Armstrong, Richmond County planner and GIS director, said the county has for years promoted the protection of the rural way of life, first with the land use plan and later the county zoning ordinance.
As for what effect a new plan for agriculture will be, he said, “We’ll wait and see what develops.”
His office will be involved in the planning whenever a report comes back from Mount Olive College once the survey results have been analyzed.
Richmond County already has an Agricultural Residential Zoning District established in the county zoning ordinance for farming areas. “Perhaps this can be another level added to zoning,” he said.
Armstrong said the county has established a good process already for zoning which includes farming. “Perhaps any plan can be dovetailed into our existing program,” he said.
He emphasized that the present county zoning, rather than emphasizing regulation, provides a process for orderly change.
Contact reporter Tom MacCallum at 997-3111, ext. 15; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.