Land & Legacy Planning

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The most recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census shows that the average age of farmers continues to rise (to nearly 58 years old), and that only 27% of current farmers qualify as “new and beginning producers,” with 10 years or less of experience in agriculture. The majority of younger farmers getting into the industry typically have smaller acreage and revenue operations, primarily due to challenges with securing loans and accessing land. Production agriculture can be a challenging career for someone to break into if they are not already part of an established farming operation or have ready access to land, equipment and capital.

Not surprisingly, access to arable land is cited as one of the greatest challenges to both getting into and staying in farming today. North Carolina has seen declines in the number of farm operators as development pressure and population growth have both increased dramatically in the state over the last few decades. According to research conducted by the American Farmland Trust, a national nonprofit that advocates for the preservation of farmland nationwide, North Carolina ranks second in the nation in projected agricultural land lost by the year 2040. Based on current development rates, 1.1 million acres of agricultural land in the state will be converted in the next 20 years and if development increases in suburban and rural areas, North Carolina could lose as much as 1.6 million acres during this same period.

Right here in the Sandhills, many farmers and landowners are already feeling the development pinch. Couple this with the reality of an aging demographic of farmers, producers and landowners, and questions become more common about what will become of the future of the family farm or acreage. This is where proactive planning and foresight can help farm families face generational transitions more confidently. According to another report from the USDA, an estimated 10 percent (about 93 million acres) of all land in farms in the United States was transferred between 2015 and 2019, either within the family or through outside sales on the open market. Often, these landowners do not have children or grandchildren willing or able to take over the farming operation or may not have even considered what options they had for succession planning. Some landowners may want the farm to continue with a new farmer but aren’t aware of the tools and opportunities which can be utilized to achieve this goal.

The good news is that through North Carolina Cooperative Extension and our friends at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) we can assist in providing you with information and resources about proactive succession planning when it comes to your land and legacy. Feel free to call or email me for more information on this topic at 919-775-5624 or

Bill Stone is the County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.