11/03/05 — Agricultural districts designed to protect land

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Agricultural districts designed to protect land

By Turner Walston
Published in News on November 3, 2005 1:47 PM

Don't be surprised to see a new type of sign popping up along Wayne County roads. Farmers may now apply for membership in voluntary agricultural districts, which would be marked by signs.

Already in place in some North Carolina counties, the voluntary agricultural district program is intended to help farmers protect their land from encroachment and nuisance lawsuits. The districts serve as a way of notifying neighbors of farm work going on in the area.

Howard Scott, director of the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Service, said officials are prepared to start the district program.

"We're ready to go,"said Scott.

To qualify, a landowner must have a minimum of 100 contiguous acres designated for farming, or own three or more tracts of land within one half-mile designated as such.

"The farmer has the right to do whatever is a normal agronomic practice" in the district, Scott said.

Signs will be placed along major roads that pass through the districts, as well as on the individual farms. Developers in the area would be required to note the presence of registered farms to homeowners seeking to build in the area.

"There are some people who won't live by a farm," Scott said.

"Does it give the farmer any more rights? Technically not," Scott said of the program. "But it does get the publicity out."

Interested landowners may apply at the Cooperative Extension office at the Wayne Center. A $50 registration fee goes toward signs, brochures, and program maintenance, Scott said. Maps showing existing districts are available at the Wayne County Register of Deeds office or at the county Planning Department.

Wayne County is divided into six districts: Great Swamp, Buck Swamp and Fork townships; Nahunta, Pikeville and Stoney Creek townships; Goldsboro, Saulston and New Hope townships; Indian Springs; Brogden; and Grantham. An Agricultural Advisory Board consists of representatives from each of the districts, plus one at-large member. The board will review applications for voluntary agricultural districts, as well as study additional methods for farmland preservation in the county.

County Planning Director Connie Price said the districts could make Wayne more attractive to farmers looking to relocate.

"It's showing that we are supportive of the agriculture industry here," he said. "It allows those that are in farming to protect their assets.

"Farming is not a cheap business to get into," Price added. "Whether you're making shoes or growing corn, it takes a certain amount of capital to get involved, and you want to be able to protect what you've got involved."

Scott said the districts help recognize the importance of agriculture in the Wayne County economy.

"We are an urban center, but we're fourth in the state in agribusiness," he said. "Our county will be strong because we're going to have a blend of communities.

Landowners interested in participating in the voluntary agricultural district program should call the Cooperative Extension Service at 731-1520. Applications are also available online at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/wayne/.