HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Hal Oliver has established a unique niche in Henderson County farming. He sells organic produce at the Henderson County Tailgate Market and caters to local restaurants.
"We use him every week," Inn on Church general manager Michelle Briggs said. "He supplies 75 percent of our produce."
Oliver now is landless, a farmer without a farm. The land he leased off Kanuga Road, a place where he grew a cornucopia of vegetables, has been sold. He's now searching for a new piece of land to continue his company, Oliver Organics.
"I am working with extension agents," Oliver said. "They are giving me some leads."
Oliver's plight demonstrates the challenge many young farmers face. Oliver did not inherit land from his family, and he does not make enough to buy a couple of acres for a farm.
"Buying is hard," Oliver said. "It's expensive; two acres is like $100,000."
Peter Marks, director of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Local Food Campaign, said he knows quite a few farmers in Oliver's situation. They have built a strong customer base with a leased parcel of land, and they want to purchase a couple acres. But the costs are too high.
Henderson County has agriculture districts, and farmers can get conservation easements on the land. These can help with the overall costs by reducing taxes and putting cash in farmers' pockets.
In the end, however, a new farmer has to get a loan and make payments.
Carolina Farm Credit loan officer Bruce Arrington said land prices in Henderson County have been driven by development in recent years. The prices, except for some bottom land, are beyond the amount most farmers can borrow.
"When development drives the cost, it makes it prohibitive," he said. "You would have to be doing something out of the box to pay that back, like a greenhouse operation, but you can't just do standard crops."
The USDA Farm Service Agency does offer programs to help new farmers. A lender, like Carolina Farm Credit, can get a loan guaranteed through the Farm Service Agency, allowing the lender to take on the risk. Arrington said he could make a loan for up to 90 percent of the value of the land with the program.
"One of our business goals is to help young farmers," Arrington said.
Oliver said he has tested the soil at several pieces of land, trying to determine whether he can grow on them. He has invested thousands of dollars in the soil at the Kanuga Road location. He cannot take that investment with him, and he faces the same prospect with any newly leased land.
"It can take up to five years to get the soil just right," Oliver said.
Losing the land is not all bad, Oliver said.
The land is in an area that floods occasionally. The property had not flooded in recent years during the drought, but this fall was different.
"The field was flooded," Oliver said. "I can't sell the lettuce. I am glad to leave. It's like a bad marriage."