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Land and Water

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Farming requires three basic elements: a soil medium, water, and light. This page provides discussion on the basics of acquiring and managing land, including ownership and leasing, water access, and the various legal rules and regulations concerning the management of both. Topics in this page include: land access, leasing, farm tenancy, the basics of property ownership and how it is titled, as well as regulations for its use under state (and sometimes federal) law.

Farm field in a seasonal sunset.

Overview of Land Access

For aspiring farmers who lack access to acreage, obtaining that access might seem daunting. While the logistics of finding and financing land can be complex, a strategic, persistent and patient approach can yield results. And while “buying land” might seem like a high priority task, there are some advantages to starting the journey on leased land. This could lower the financial risk as well as give the aspiring farmer a better understanding of what to look for when she is ready to buy a farm of her own, and how to put it to fuller use when they do so. Aspiring farmers may want to check out NC State Extension’s NC FarmLink program for a wealth of resources as well as a database of available farmland.

Leasing & Tenancy

This page provides an overview of the types of leases and advice for landowners and tenants.

Property Ownership

The way property is owned affects the rights of an individual to use, manage, sell or direct its distribution after death. This could affect who has a say in a farming operation, how the land is conveyed to heirs and what type of farming activities are feasible. 

Land Clearing

Clearing land (i.e. removing trees, brush and stumps) for agricultural purposes is generally exempt from state law requiring a permit for such activity. However, such activity remains under the watchful eye of the local government (e.g. town, city, county) who will ensure that clearing is indeed for agricultural purposes. Also, forest operations such as harvesting and roadbuilding are subject to the N.C. Forest Practices Guidelines, and any farmer who participates in USDA programs may be required to implement certain erosion control measures. Finally, there may be restrictions on activities within a certain number of feet from a pond, lake or stream, sometimes under federal law. 

Water for Irrigation & Livestock

While aspiring farmers might think that land is the most important ingredient for starting a farm, access to water is perhaps equally important, or at least nearly so. For any prospective surface or subsurface water source, assessing the quantity, quality and regulatory requirements can be a complex although vitally important endeavor. The Nursery Crop Science Portal on the NC State Extension website contains a wealth of resources related to water quality, quantity, regulation and irrigation design that will have some relevance for almost any agricultural operation.

Farm Layout & Infrastructure

This page identifies common on-farm infrastructure and considerations for incorporating them into your landscape. 

Zoning & Bona Fide Farming Exemption

State law in North Carolina provides an exemption from certain zoning requirements for “bona-fide farms”. While it does not give farmers an absolute right to “do whatever they want” on their land, it can streamline the process for specific farm-related activities such as erecting structures associated with the farm operation. Here is a presentation concerting the production requirement for Bona Fide Farm exemption from zoning.