A Landowner’s Role in a Stable Food Supply

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As I write this article, the threat of continued COVID-19 spread and subsequent disruption to our economy persists. As face-covered individuals continue to scramble to grocery stores to stock up on needed supplies, stores are challenged with keeping stocked shelves. While shelves are being emptied, growers and dairies are forced to dump certain commodities as restaurants, hotels, and schools are shuttered, creating ripples in the wholesale/retail supply chain. The situation has improved compared to this spring, but many question whether there will be a food supply shortage in the near future. Based on observations at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, there has been an increase in home food production and preservation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “There are no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. and there are currently no wide-spread disruptions reported in the supply chain” (Food Supply Chain). This is great news for now. But it also highlights the importance of a stable food supply in the future.

Many farmers would argue the challenges have outweighed the successes in recent years. Let’s not even mention the 2020 growing season! There is one challenge that I keep seeing, lurking around somewhat quietly in the background, waiting to one day rear its ugly head and threaten our stable food supply…land.

According to the 2017 United States Department of Agriculture Ag Census, 50-59 percent of the land in Robeson County for agricultural production is rented or leased by farmers. This means that non-farming landowners have significant control over the access of needed land to support our food system. With the average age of Robeson County farmers at 58 – many with no successor –  and a downward trend in young farmers following this career path, a significant challenge awaits. At the same time, generational land is being transferred at a rapid pace to vacant landowners. I receive phone calls frequently at the office from children or grandchildren of deceased landowners inquiring about what to do with inherited farmland, lease agreements, and how to find someone to rent their property. Unfortunately, many turn to the option of selling for non-farming development. Connecting landowners and interested farmers is critical.

To address this issue, NC State Extension has developed a valuable resource called NC FarmLink. This program is focused on connecting landowners, farmers, and service providers across North Carolina to help maintain our $89 billion-dollar agricultural industry. You can find a database of available farmland or farmers, much like a classified ad. Whether you need to find someone to take over your farm operation, find a new tenant, or find resources to help guide you through the process, NC FarmLink is here to help. As a landowner, you will play a critical role in our future food supply. If you were concerned about the empty grocery store shelves recently, think about what it could be like in a decade or more as farmers continue to feed a growing population with less land and available resources. Let’s start making some connections. You can find out more about the program at NC FarmLink. For assistance or more information, contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crops Agent, at 910-671-3276, by email at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.