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Cumberland farmland preserved through N.C. water conservation program

VANDER – Jenell Young moved away from Cumberland County more than 30 years ago, but after her parents died she still wanted to preserve the farmland where she grew up. She wanted to pass it on for at least one more generation, and she found a way to do that through North Carolina’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. That farmland is now the first property in Cumberland County to be protected through this program.

As a result, Young has not only kept the land east of Fayetteville from being developed, she has taken a step in protecting water quality in Locks Creek and the Cape Fear River. It was, at times, a challenging process, but Young said achieving her end goal made it worth it.

“(It was worth it) when I go out there and walk the land where I grew up,” she said. “I think, ‘maybe I’m still my father’s daughter.’”

Young put about 52 acres – as much as would qualify – into a 30-year conservation easement through CREP. Land that had previously grown soybeans and cotton is now home to yellow poplar trees. Yellow poplar trees are good for providing food for pollinators, and bees will be thanking Young for years to come.

While meeting her goal of preservation, the easement also meets the goal of CREP to improve and protect water quality and the habitat in and near waterways. Eric Galamb, the CREP manager in the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said for some farm owners “we’re taking a liability and turning it into an asset, and landowners are getting paid at the same time.”

CREP is a program within the NCDA&CS Division of Soil and Water Conservation. It encourages farmers with land that touches a stream or wetland to stop growing crops for a period of time and instead plant trees or grasses on that land. In return, landowners receive annual payments and may also get one-time bonus payments depending on whether they choose a conservation easement to last 10, 15 or 30 years or permanently.

“The program began in 1999, and as of Sept. 30, 2019, more than 30,000 acres across the state have been put into CREP,” Galamb said. “We have protected 950 miles of streams through conservation easements.”

After careers in banking and education, Young calls preserving her land her third act. It’s been a bit of a wild ride, involving a road trip to Tennessee for saplings, storing trees in a refrigerator and replanting trees after Hurricane Florence.

“Fayetteville went under water, and so did my baby trees,” she recalled.

However, she said CREP was the right fit for her, so she persevered with the help of people in the many agencies involved. She hopes other farmers will consider if it’s right for them, too.

“I feel good knowing there is still a good use for my land,” Young said.

For more information on CREP, visit http://www.ncagr.gov/SWC/easementprograms/CREP/index.html.

The program is available for landowners in approved watersheds in 76 North Carolina counties.

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