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Linking Farmers to Land

December 11, 2020 |

 

Across the state, growers and landowners are turning to NC FarmLink for help making valuable connections.

 

By Lara Ivanitch

 

Some things belong together—salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. Other things are so intertwined that it’s hard to consider one without the other, like clouds and sky or a farmer and farmland. What is a farmer without land to farm? The two are so difficult to separate that we take their pairing for granted. However, these days in North Carolina, farmers are having trouble finding affordable land to farm. On the flip side, landowners are grappling with ways to keep their land in agriculture as pressure to develop it increases.

Fortunately, for both farmers and landowners, a service called NC FarmLink works to connect the two by giving new farmers a tool to find what they need to make a start in agriculture, whether that is affordable fields to farm, mentors to help them learn the ropes or jobs that allow them to gain experience. For nonfarming landowners, the service provides a place to advertise the lease or sale of their land as well as a list of farmers looking for land.

“It also offers landowners who are actively farming their land the ability to seek out additional land to farm,” says Dr. Noah Ranells, NC FarmLink director for the eastern region. “These same farmers can share their farm opportunities, which include business partnerships, employment, employment with option to purchase, internships and mentorships.”

When Cindy Shore and her husband, Neil, found NC FarmLink in 2018, they needed to take a step back from vegetable production at Sanders Ridge, their 150-acre winery and organic vegetable farm in Yadkin County. Neil’s 99-year-old mother had come to live with them on the farm, and they needed help. Cindy saw the change as an opportunity to pass their knowledge and experience to new farmers.

The Shores offered beginning farmers guidance, an established customer base and a no-interest credit line for farm inputs in addition to land and equipment rental. In less than a week of using NC FarmLink, the couple found two very good matches through the service. “I interviewed and met with the first reply I received, and they were perfect,” Cindy says.

 

NC FarmLink’s

In the early 2000s, NC FarmLink grew out of the efforts of N.C. Cooperative Extension and other county agriculture agencies to support nonfarming landowners and farmers of all types. “The issue of farmland access was emerging as a significant challenge for new farmers, especially in areas where development pressures had led to raising the purchase price of farmland,” says Ranells. Around the same time, other areas of the country were launching programs to connect farmers to land.

In 2013, two separate groups in different parts of North Carolina, neither aware of the other, created similar services to connect landowners with agricultural land seekers, farmers and producers. Eventually the two groups began working together to share their strengths, and by 2018, they officially joined to form NC FarmLink, a North Carolina State University Extension program.

 

Disappearing Farmland

A report released by American Farmland Trust in May 2020 underscores the importance of NC FarmLink’s efforts to address farmland loss in our state. North Carolina ranked second in the nation for conversion of farmland to developed use between 2001 and 2016, according to the Trust’s comprehensive land-use mapping project. During that time period, 732,000 acres of agricultural land were developed or compromised.

“We’ve known that N.C. was a rapidly urbanizing state and that farms seemed to be eaten up in the path of development as our major cities continued to grow,” says William Hamilton, NC FarmLink director for the western region. “Access to farmland is the No. 1 documented barrier for beginning farmers.”

 

User Friendly

How can a landowner or farmer use NC FarmLink? By going online or picking up the phone. NC FarmLink offers a self-serve website as well as options for those with unreliable internet or who prefer working directly with people. The service’s searchable database is designed to be easy to use, so land seekers and owners can identify and contact matches at their own convenience.

NC FarmLink users create a profile that includes his or her specific needs. “I was prompted to give good information about our farm so when the renters and I connected, they already knew a lot about it,” Cindy Shore recounts. “The interface was a breeze—intuitive and streamlined.”

Landowners or farmers can also call their local Extension agents, who can set up NC FarmLink accounts and profiles for them. “I have heard relief in someone’s voice over the phone when they have reached out to me because they know there is a real person out there behind the screen they can talk to,” Hamilton says.

Farmland seekers can search farms by specific criteria such as number of acres, region or county, type of opportunity and equipment or infrastructure available for use. Landowners can search the farmland seeker database by minimum years of experience, management experience, production goals, intended farming practices and more. “The site communicated everything efficiently, which saved me a whole lot of time on the phone or computer answering inquiries,” Shore says.

 

Meeting Other Needs

Beyond the database, NC FarmLink provides consultations with nonoperating landowners as they consider options for their land. These consultations may include transition services to help landowners navigate the challenges of keeping a farm intact for the next generation.

Other resources on the NC FarmLink website include a farmland assessment checklist, tips for creating a profile, a land lease template and guidance for setting rental rates.

Generally, NC FarmLink staff members are available for regional meetings, workshops and outreach within Extension and other agricultural agencies. As a result of the coronavirus, Hamilton and Ranells are currently limited to virtual meetings, phone, email or webinars.

 

NC FarmLink 

https://ncFarmLink.ces.ncsu.edu/

 

William Hamilton, NC FarmLink Director – Western Region

whamilt@ncsu.edu

Phone: (828) 273-5663 | Cell: (828) 273-5663 | Fax: (828) 684-8715

 

Noah Ranells, NC FarmLink Director – Eastern Region

nnranell@ncsu.edu

Phone: (919) 245-2058 | Cell: (919) 619-9180 | Fax: (919) 644-3067

[Perhaps include the map from this page so landowners/seekers can determine who to contact: https://ncFarmLink.ces.ncsu.edu/about-nc-FarmLink/]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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