President John F. Kennedy once said that the farmer is “the only man in our economy who must buy everything he buys at retail – sell everything he sells at wholesale – and pay the freight both ways.” Accounting for nearly 20% of the overall gross state product, North Carolina agricultural lands are indispensable. They are the visible embodiment of the largest economic sector in our state, grossing over $100 billion in economic value. “While there may not be a building or parking lot in the rural fields of our state, make no mistake, they are North Carolina’s number one industry” states Travis Morehead, Executive Director of TRLT.

Between 2001 and 2016, 732,000 acres of farmland in North Carolina were developed or compromised. That means that NC lost or compromised 5.5 acres of farmland every hour for 15 years. If we continue to grow as we have historically, it is projected NC will lose another 1.1 million acres of farmland by 2040 according to the American Farmland Trust.

“The rapid loss of agricultural lands is why we have dedicated significant resources to permanently conserve family farms in our region” states Travis Morehead. “When we lose a farm to development, we lose our region’s character and our way of life.” Three Rivers Land Trust submitted several applications this year to the NC Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation (NCADFP) Trust Fund, and the USDA Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) for the purchase of farmland conservation easements and has been awarded funds for five of these farms.

In August 2023, the federally funded USDA ACEP program awarded $977,812 to Three Rivers Land Trust for the protection of a dairy farm in Iredell County. This first phase protects 380 acres of the farm with more portions of the farm anticipated to be conserved in the future. Since 2003, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of dairies in the United States, with a loss of more than half of licensed dairy operations, and now there are just shy of 32,000 dairy operations in the entire United States. Protecting farms with purchased conservation easements helps ensure these operations continue to be economically sustainable.

In October 2023, the State-funded NCADFP Trust Fund awarded funds to TRLT for 4 farms totaling $1,459,422. This includes two small grain farms totaling 169 acres in Cabarrus County, a 45-acre beef cattle farm in Davidson County, and a 75-acre sheep farm in Moore County.

“We are incredibly excited to have been awarded funds for these projects,” states Associate Director Crystal Cockman. “Without the support of these grant agencies, TRLT corporate partners like Chick-fil-A and SC Johnson Company, and TRLT members, our ability to conserve our region’s farms would not exist.”

The total award from these farmland grant agencies totals $2,457,234 and will protect 659 acres. This is all funding that will go directly to landowners for the permanent conservation of their properties. To learn more about how to conserve your lands or how you can support Three Rivers Land Trust in their conservation mission, please contact Emily Callicutt, Senior Land Protection Specialist at Three Rivers Land Trust by calling 704-647-0302 or by email at

About Three Rivers Land Trust

Three Rivers Land Trust works with private landowners and public agencies to conserve the most important natural areas, scenic rivers, family farms, and historic places in a 15-county region of the central Piedmont and Sandhills. Since 1995, The Land Trust has worked to offer reasonable and attractive options to landowners who want to save their lands for future generations to enjoy. Our mission is to work thoughtfully and selectively with property owners, conserving land that is essential to our region. For more information about Three Rivers Land Trust, please contact the Land Trust at 704-647-0302 or or visit their website at