Agriculture Cost Share Program

Nonpoint source pollution has been identified by the NC Division of Water Quality as the primary source of degradation of freshwater rivers and streams in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Nonpoint Source Assessment Report, agriculture is the largest source of stream-use impacts in the state. Of the 30% of stream miles, which are impacted negatively, agriculture is suspected of impacting approximately 65%. In addition, agriculture is suspected of being the primary source (60% of impacted acres) of NPS pollution in estuarine areas.
The approach taken in North Carolina for addressing agriculture's contribution to the nonpoint source water pollution problem is to primarily encourage voluntary participation by the agricultural community. This approach is supported by financial incentives, technical and educational assistance, research, and regulatory programs.

Financial incentives are provided through North Carolina's Agriculture Cost Share Program. This program is administered by the Division of Soil and Water Conservation (Division) in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It has been applauded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and has received wide support from the general public as well as the state's agricultural community. The Cost Share program was authorized in 1983 as a pilot program to address nonpoint source problems in the nutrient sensitive waters of Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, and the Chowan River covering 16 counties. Due to the program's success, it has been extended to all 96 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (Districts) that includes all 100 counties.

While the Soil and Water Conservation Commission (Commission) has the statutory responsibility to create, implement and supervise the Cost Share program, it is delivered at the local level by 492 elected and appointed volunteer District Supervisors who are assisted by a many experts. The experts are employees of the U. S Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, and the District or county.

Participating farmers receive 75% of predetermined average costs of installed best management practices (BMPs) with the remaining 25% paid by farmers directly or through in-kind contributions. There is a yearly cap of $75,000 per year. Some applicants who qualify under the beginning or limited resource farmer statute may receive 90% of predetermined average costs, up to $90,000 per year. Also the program provides local Districts with matching funds (50:50) to hire personnel to plan and install the needed BMPs. The Commission allocates cost share funds to local Districts based on the level of state appropriations and water quality protection priorities.

Cost Share allocation and funding decisions by District Boards are based on their written strategy plans. After receiving their allocation, District Boards review applications from landowners for Cost Share funding and decide who will be funded for BMP installation. The written strategy plans are used to prioritize the BMPs in terms of effectiveness for water quality protection. District Boards are encouraged to place the highest priority on the most cost effective water quality protection measures.

Completed BMPs under the program are subject to random checks by the Division staff and District personnel. Additional checks are required if the BMP relates to animal waste management. Farmers who fail to maintain their BMPs in proper working order are subject to repaying some or all of the original cost share funds.

Since the first cost share contracts were issued in 1984, there have been approximately 45,241 contracts approved for installing BMPs through the end of the 2005 program year, which ended June 30, 2005. It has been estimated that an average of 7.2 million tons of soil have been saved annually during the life of the program.

In the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the Cost Share program received $7.3 million in state appropriations. The $7.3 million included $2.1 million for technical assistance funding. The program cost shared 123 full and part time District technical positions to plan, design, and install agricultural BMPs to improve water quality. The Cost Share program is currently budgeted for $7.3 million in non-reverting, recurring funds.

Highlights of additional accomplishments include the following (1984-2005):
  • 117,143 acres of cropland have been converted to trees or grass.
  • 4,829,540-feet of livestock exclusion have been installed to improve water quality.
  • 3,870 waste management structures have been constructed to properly store and dispose of animal waste.
  • 15,426 acres of grassed waterways and field borders have been installed to help prevent sediment and nutrient delivery to water courses of the State.