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Voluntary Agricultural Districts

Frequently asked questions

How can farms benefit from becoming a Voluntary Agricultural District?

Recognition. The County will place signs along public roads at the property line of participating farms that identify your farm as an Orange County Voluntary Agricultural District. These signs will tell passersby that the farm owner is committed to the preservation of the agricultural way of life in Orange County.

Increased Protection from Nuisance Suits. Persons buying land within one-half mile of the District will do so with the knowledge that a bona fide agricultural operation exists. Agricultural Districts will be identified in the County Land Records System and on County Tax Maps. Applicants for new developments will also be alerted to the presence of an agricultural district within one-half mile.

Waiver of Water and Sewer Assessments. Landowners within Agricultural Districts will not be required to connect to water or sewer systems owned and/or operated by Orange County, nor will they be assessed water and sewer charges until their property is connected to such service.

Public Hearing Required for Proposed Condemnations. No State or County agency may initiate condemnation proceedings against any lands within an Agricultural District until a formal public hearing is conducted.

Priority Consideration in Development Review. Agricultural Districts are considered 'Primary Conservation Areas' when reviewing new development proposals adjacent to the District.

Eligibility for Preservation Funds. Agricultural Districts may be eligible for farmland preservation grants, should funding become available from local, state, or federal sources.

How can a farm become a Voluntary Agricultural District?

To become an Agricultural District, a farm must first be certified as Qualifying Farmland. To secure certification, a farm must:

Be eligible to participate in the farm Present Use Value Taxation program
Be certified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as being a farm on which:
-at least two-thirds of the land is composed of soils that are best suited for agricultural purposes; or
-at least two-thirds of the land has been actively used in agricultural, horticultural or forestry operations during each of the last five years.

Be managed, if highly erodible land exists on the farm, in accordance with NRCS-defined erosion control practices as specified in the 1985 Food Security Act.

An Agricultural District must consist of sufficient acreage to meet the requirements for the Present Use Tax program: 20 acres of forest land, 10 acres of agricultural land and 5 acres of horticultural land. The district may contain a single farm or two or more contiguous farms. Smaller tracts adjacent to an existing or proposed voluntary agricultural district may also be included.

Agricultural District Membership Requires a Voluntary, Non-Binding Agreement

A Voluntary Agricultural District member will be subject to a non-binding conservation agreement between the County and the landowner that prohibits non-farm use of development of that land for a period of at least 10 years. However, up to three lots may be developed on a parcel of land within a district.

Should a participating farmer decide to sell their land...

A Voluntary Agricultural District member may revoke the conservation agreement through a written notice to the Agricultural Districts Advisory Board.

How did the Voluntary Agricultural District Program Begin?

The State of North Carolina passed the Farmland Preservation Enabling Act in 1985, authorizing counties to establish farmland preservation programs, including agricultural districts. In 1992, Orange County adopted a Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program Ordinance, creating the Agricultural Preservation Board (APB) and procedures for establishing Voluntary Agricultural Districts.

What is the Agricultural Preservation Board?

The Agricultural Preservation Board is composed of a number of County residents, including farmers representing Agricultural Districts. APB members are appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. The APB reviews and approves applications to the Agricultural Districts program. They also make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on other issues related to the preservation of farmland in Orange County.