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County goes for voluntary ag districts

By Staff
Split vote means new debate next month
By NIKIE MAYO
News Editor
Beaufort County commissioners voted 6-1 Monday night to approve an ordinance allowing voluntary agricultural districts in the county, but they’ll debate the matter one more time and vote again next month.
Most of the dozen people who spoke during a public hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse favor the districts, characterizing them as a way to preserve area cropland and protect farmers from frivolous lawsuits. But Commissioner Hood Richardson maintained there is a “sinisterism in regulation” at play that would allow the Navy to take landowners’ property.
Under the agreement, a farmer states his or her intent to work acreage as farmland for a decade. Along with crops, a district agreement protects endeavors in related fields such as forestry, horticulture and aquaculture.
For a $50 fee, a farmer is enrolled in the program and receives signs designating his land as being part of a voluntary agricultural district. Beaufort County will have six regional districts, and any farmer may withdraw from a district by writing a letter to that effect, according to Steve Woodson, general counsel for N.C. Farm Bureau.
Richardson contends there is an agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense and state Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler that would allow the Defense Department to condemn private property that is placed in the voluntary districts.
He was referring to the Navy’s efforts to put an outlying landing field on the border of Washington and Beaufort counties.
Farmer Mack Daniels disputed Richardson’s notion.
Farmer Doug Boyd called the districts important “because we have a lot of new neighbors.”
Richardson said he believes farmers understand the local angle of the program, but that there are federal implications.
Commissioner Robert Cayton countered that farmers are smarter than Richardson gives them credit for being. Cayton said the districts are also supported by the Beaufort County Grange, a pro-farm organization that he leads.
Beaufort County resident Herbert Perry was the only one who had a difference of opinion from his fellow farmers when he spoke Monday night.
Because the ordinance didn’t pass unanimously — Richardson cast the lone dissenting vote — it must be debated again within 100 days. That follows the state statutes regarding new ordinances, according to County Attorney Billy Mayo.
Commissioners voted to put the item on August’s agenda and to “get notice out” to county farmers.