Byrd Farm – Mitchell County

Charolais cattle on Byrd farmByrd Charolais Farm – Mitchell County (Highlands of Roan Area)

The Highlands of Roan are known for rare and fragile ecological communities as well as magnificent, panoramic views studded with scenic mountain farms. At the end of 2019, SAHC permanently protected 127 acres of beautiful family farmland in Mitchell County, preserving bucolic views along NC Hwy 226. The Byrd Charolais* Farm is an agricultural gem, with water conservation practices in place and a long heritage of mountain farming. One of just a few farm preservation projects SAHC has completed in the Highlands of Roan, the property is now permanently protected for future generations.

* Charolais are a breed of cattle which originated in France in the historic Charolais region.

Mountain pasture viewTucked into the Red Hill community less than 5 miles from the southwestern slopes of the Roan Massif, the Byrd Charolais Farm contains rolling hills, forested slopes, mountain pasture, and about a mile of Big Rock Creek.

Conservation-minded landowner Mark Byrd had already protected the farm with a 20-year term easement – the first agricultural easement in Mitchell County. After learning about SAHC, he worked with us to secure the land with a perpetual conservation easement – meaning it will be available for farmers 50, 100, and many more years in the future.

“Agriculture is an important piece of our national security,” says Mark. “Preservation of farmland is important to our food security, and we need to preserve farmland now to make sure it is available for food production in the future. I would like to see more farmland protected because once it’s converted to houses and other buildings, you don’t see the land return to farm use. People also enjoy seeing the beauty of farmland, natural places, and national parks — that’s another reason for conservation.”

A Farming Heritage and Protecting Water Quality

Red barnPreserving family traditions played role in Mark’s desire to protect the Byrd farm.

“I was born into farming,” he recalls. “My earliest memories are from about 4 or 5 years old, following my dad each step he took and learning along the way. I came into a career in farming from being around it all my life, every day — I just grew into it. Farming is a family tradition.” And with family history dating to the late 1700s in Mitchell County, it’s a long tradition.

Mark followed his father in cattle farming, recalling “Dad was a good teacher, and we enjoyed that time together.”

Cattle and Mountain ViewHis father began putting conservation practices in place on the farm in the late 1980s — beginning with off-stream watering tanks and some exclusionary fencing to keep cattle out of streams. They continued adding a little more at a time over the years, and as Mark went into a career in Soil & Water Conservation and travelled across the state, he learned about and implemented additional practices. They improved farm roads on the property to prevent erosion, added more exclusionary fencing, did soil sampling, developed more wells for off-stream watering, and practiced rotational grazing to better manage the pasture.

Big Rock Creek“Soil conservation for water quality is important,” says Mark. He continues to use conservation farm planning techniques following USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service standards and practices.

As an added incentive to continue water-protecting practices, the clean streams on the property provide a resource for agri-tourism, with fishing clubs using a portion of the creek for trout fishing. People come to enjoying the sport of fly-fishing and catch-and-release fishing.

“This gives us another incentive to keep the water clean and area pretty, and to manage the farm for water quality, because trout are sensitive to runoff in streams,” adds Mark.

Permanent conservation of the farm — along with best management practices the landowners have put in place — will help protect water quality in trout streams and in the Nolichucky River watershed. A mile of Big Rock Creek flows through the property, as well as several smaller unnamed tributaries, which contribute to the North Toe River. Overall, about 2 miles of stream corridor exist on the tract.

Approximately 78% of soils on the property are considered soils of local or statewide importance. Permanent conservation of the land ensures that these valuable agricultural soils will be available for posterity.

Honoring the Past, Acting in the Present, and Looking to the Future

Mark and Nancy ByrdMark and his wife Nancy talked to their sons about conserving the land when they began working with SAHC. Mark says that the property could have easily been sold — that they had many offers to buy it — but they wanted to maintain the family’s farming heritage as much as possible. Their sons agreed; they also did not want to see the property developed. By protecting it with a conservation easement, future generations of the family have the option to return to live on or farm the land.

“The conservation easement made it affordable to entertain the option of permanent land protection,” says Mark. “Hopefully this will preserve some of the landscape. It’s a pretty place, and I think people that drive by enjoy seeing it as it is. My grandparents worked very hard here, and protecting it will preserve some of their history, too.”

SAHC is grateful to the Byrd family for making this commitment to preserve their farm.

SAHC staff, NC Dept. of Ag and landowners at project closingPermanent conservation of this land was made possible by a grant from NC Dept. of Agriculture Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, leveraged by a matching grant from generous private donors and support of SAHC members. Thank you for helping to protect this land!