NY Town Hopes to Protect Its Farming Future

2/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

MOREAU, N.Y. — The town of Moreau is nearing adoption of a Farmland Protection Plan that would help farmers qualify for programs that fund the purchase of development rights.

A new round of state funding is expected to be released in the near future.

Moreau is in northern Saratoga County, one of upstate New York’s fastest-growing counties, a trend that is putting farmland under extreme pressure from developers.

“It isn’t just open space, it’s a valuable asset,” said John Arnold, Saratoga County Farm Bureau president and a Moreau town planning board member.

The sale of development rights is one way farmers can keep their land in agriculture, even if they stop farming or decide to sell the property. Once development rights have been sold, the land may never be used for residential or commercial construction.

However, farmers have to apply for such programs and go through detailed reviews. Officials consider a variety of factors including soil type, fertility, productivity, proximity to neighbors, degree of development pressure, succession planning and the land’s agricultural diversity.

“It’s very competitive,” said John Brennan of the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, which funds New York’s program. Farms located in towns that have a formal Farmland Protection Plan get added points during the review process, he said.

Some private and federal agencies have development rights programs, too.

Moreau Supervisor Preston Jenkins said he expects the town board to adopt its plan in the next couple of months. If so, it would become the fourth town in Saratoga County to do so. On Jan. 14, the town of Ballston adopted its Farmland Protection Plan, joining Malta and Charlton, which had done so previously.

“Fifty-four percent of our town is zoned agriculture or rural,” Ballston Supervisor Patrick Ziegler said. “There’s a strong farming history here.”

Several years ago during a comprehensive plan update, residents responding to a survey said preserving the town’s rural character was one of their highest priorities.

“To keep that rural feel it’s important to help farmers keep their land in production,” Ziegler said. A Farmland Protection Plan is one means of achieving that goal, which has an economic benefit, too, by promoting agritourism.

“We’ve had people from out of state come here just to look at the new Buckley Farm’s black and white Oreo cows,” he said. “It’s right on Route 50, a main corridor” between Saratoga Springs and Schenectady.

Plans call for the creation of a volunteer Moreau Agriculture Advisory Committee that would advise town officials on farm-related planning and zoning decisions, plus facilitate connections between consumers and local producers and growers.

“Educating the nonfarmers around us is one of the most important things we can do to protect farmland in the future,” said Jaime O’Neill of the Saratoga County Planning Department. Each year, she helps organize a Father’s Day “Sundae on the Farm” event that encourages people to visit an area farm. More than 4,000 people turned out in 2013.

Most of Moreau’s farmland is in the southeast quadrant of town, east of I-87 and south of state Route 197. It’s part of a Consolidated Agricultural District that encompasses 35,000 acres, stretching more than 20 miles south to the town of Stillwater.

Moreau’s population is 14,728, but the vast majority of people live north of Route 197 in subdivisions and the incorporated village of South Glens Falls. While zoning restrictions are in place, the farming area is most susceptible to residential development as the population keeps moving up the I-87 (Northway) corridor.

“We’re at a crossroads here,” said Todd Kusnierz, a town board member and Candy Cane Farm co-owner. “Most people in Moreau don’t realize how much agriculture we have.”

There is a diverse mixture of farms. Kusnierz raises Christmas trees and black Angus cattle. There are also dairies and horse farms.

On Jan. 15, the town held a public information workshop on the proposed farmland plan. In 2012, Moreau was awarded a $25,000 state grant to begin work on the project. The money was used to hire a consulting firm, Poughkeepsie-based Chazen Companies, to guide the town through the process.

Now, it’s almost done. But once the plan is adopted, various steps called for must be implemented.

“It’s a foundation for the future of agriculture in this town,” Arnold said.

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