You can’t keep the boys down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree, and, more importantly for conservationists, you can’t bring farms back once they’re gone.
With the booming economy and new development going on all over Guilford County, there’s an increasing concern about the disappearance of farmland and rural areas in what was once plush Guilford County. Development in the county’s northwest – an area which may get a municipal water system – along with growth in the southwest and continuing development in northern and eastern Guilford County, has conservationists expressing alarm at the rate at which farms are closing and being replaced with homes and businesses.
The latest USDA Agriculture Census only tracks up until 2012, but it does capture the trend: From 2007 to 2012, Guilford County lost 5,769 acres of farmland. Farm acreage was down from 96,519 acres to 90,750.
Millie Langley, soil conservationist with Guilford County Soil and Water Conservation District, said she’s seen that trend continue in recent years. She said she’s concerned it will hurt the quality of life in both the unincorporated county and the cities if conservation efforts aren’t ramped up.
Langley said that, when she came to work in Guilford County in 1984, there were about 20 dairy farms in the county.
“Now, we have seven and several of those are teetering on the verge of going under,” she said.
According Langley, the average age of farmers in the county was 61 at last count. More and more children in farm families pursue other occupations.
Langley said the constant development of former farmland also leads to conflict.
“Part of the problem is the interface between farm folks and city folks,” she said. “They build next to a farm and they expect for it to be quiet; they expect for there not to be any noise.”
She also said that sometimes homeowners complain about flies or the smells that emanate from a farm.
Josh Myers, who was just elected as a soil and water conservation supervisor in Guilford County, said it’s alarming to see the rate at which farms are going out of business.
He knows farming well. He comes from a long line of farmers.
“I grew up on a farm and I worked on a farm to pay my way through school,” he said.
He said development along NC-70 in eastern Guilford County is taking away a lot of farm acreage in that area.
“We’re not making any more land,” he said, adding that once concrete is down, no one is going to pull it up and replace it with farmland again.
Myers, who is a manager for a financial firm, said he comes from a fourth or fifth generation of farmers and he has a cousin in Iredell County who was considering whether or not to continue.
“Wal-Mart is coming in and saying, “We’ll give you millions of dollars not to come to work ever again.” Myers said that they want to pay him so much for his farm he won’t have to work.
Guilford County still ranks fairly high in farm activity in the state. The county, for instance, was second in raising horses, with over 11,000 a few years ago.
Also according to the most recent data available, Guilford County is 17th in hay production and 16th in growing tobacco.