UNION COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Union County is the home of sprawling hill and farm fields.

“We farm,” owner of AL Baucom Family Farms in Monroe Allan Baucom said.

From wheat to soybeans, Allan Baucom’s farm contributes to the county’s reign as a top agricultural producer in the state.

On Tuesday, he gave Queen City News a tour of his grain bins. But Monday night, he was representing the Union Soil and Water Conservation District in advocating for land conservation at the Union County Commissioners meeting.

“The open space, the agrarian culture, the climate that we have in this county is one of the great things that brings not only industry to people in the county. We cannot afford to lose it,” he said while speaking to commissioners Monday night.

According to the 2022 NCDA Census of Agriculture, Union County has nearly 190,000 acres of farmland. On average, it loses about 3,000 acres a year.

Right now, the county ranks 13th in the nation for open space land loss – the majority is being developed.

“It increases the value, the savings if you will that people have. But by the same token, there are those of us who want to see this open space, this heritage preserved. And we can’t do it any sooner,” Baucom said,

In a 4-1 vote Monday night, Union County Commissioners approved nearly $1 million in unassigned funds to be used to purchase conservation easements.

The Union Soil and Water Conservation District would be in charge of the program, which essentially attaches an easement to a dead that would prevent the land from being developed.

Under the program, landowners would be able to sell or donate their development rights to their property, while still retaining ownership of the land.

“There will not be rooftops on it. It will be an open space. It will be green space. It will be a pastoral setting. It will be used as agrarian utilization,” Baucom said.

Baucom says the process is in its very early stages. The next step is designing the program and then identifying land to conserve.