Chatham County Establishes Agricultural Preservation & Development Trust Fund

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Chatham Agricultural Preservation & Development Trust FundOn October 17, 2022, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to establish the first-ever county-based trust fund aimed at supporting agricultural preservation and development within Chatham County. This critical support will help fund a local working lands protection program as well as implement an ag economic development program, based on recommendations from the Farmland Preservation Plan. 

The Chatham Agricultural Preservation & Development Trust Fund will be established and funded annually with Article 46 tax revenue. On November 18, 2019, the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution that, pending the passing of the Article 46 tax referendum, the resulting revenue was to be used for education, parks & recreation, agriculture preservation & enhancement, and affordable housing. Chatham County voters took to the polls in March 2020 to vote on this referendum. The referendum was approved, and the tax was levied in April 2020.

The aim of this initiative is to protect Chatham County farms and working lands while also addressing the need to help farmers stay in business, both now and for future generations. A presentation to the Board by Susannah Goldston, Chatham Soil & Water Conservation District Director, and Dr. Ginger Cunningham, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center Director, requested funding to establish this trust fund using Article 46 tax revenue funds. 

Addressing ever-increasing developmental pressures and the need to preserve remaining farms and working lands in Chatham, this trust fund will help to combat the irreversible loss of Chatham’s finite resource of productive, arable land. In a recent report, North Carolina ranked second in the nation in the potential agricultural land lost by the year 2040. In Chatham County alone, a moderate projection model states the estimated farmland loss in the next 20 years could total nearly 15,000 acres. State and county statistics can be accessed through an interactive tool

“We are so excited for this opportunity to develop meaningful and impactful farmland preservation programs for the county at this crucial moment,” said Goldston. “These dollars will have long-lasting effects of securing productive working lands while supporting and enhancing our local agriculture  system – a benefit to every county resident.” 

Agriculture, forestry, and agribusiness industries account for a significant portion of Chatham County’s total income each year, averaging $125 million in cash receipts and almost $300 million in additional gains from forestry sector output. From farms of all sizes to forestry, not only does agriculture bring income for the county, but it also provides jobs. Agriculture contributes to Chatham County’s beloved green spaces and rural character, provides access to local food, and serves as a foundation for natural resource conservation. With more than 1,100 farms across the county, 98% identify as family farms, and over one-third of the 1,700+ ag producers identify as female. Chatham County ranks second in the state for beef cattle production, second for sheep and goat production, third in equine population, ninth in hay production, 15th in dairy cattle population, and 17th in broiler production. 

“To have this kind of perpetual support in place, on behalf of the County, speaks volumes to the prominent role that ag plays here in Chatham,” said Cunningham. “Our hope to safeguard our resources  of today for the coming generations has been made a much more realistic venture with this critical  financial backing.” 

Through the dedication and commitment of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, the  Agriculture Advisory Board, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center staff and advisory council, and the Chatham Soil & Water Conservation District staff and Board of Supervisors, the  Chatham Agricultural Preservation & Development Trust Fund should be in place by the end of 2022.