Farms contribute to Greene County’s rural character and protect open spaces essential to the quality of life for both permanent and seasonal residents. Any number of surveys of rural residents and second-home dwellers indicate the primary reasons people live in such areas have to do with their appreciation of the natural resources and open spaces offered, but the anecdotal evidence is perhaps even stronger and local tourism brochures provide examples. They include references not only to the County’s historic and natural sites but also its “spectacular scenery” and the “natural beauty of the countryside,”
Farmland is a valuable future resource for the County in providing for a healthy and plentiful local supply of food products and generating new sources of farm income. Farms and forests provide working self-sustaining landscapes that preserve and enhance environmental quality. Farms support wildlife such as deer, turkeys, and small-game and thereby sustain hunting as a source of tourism to the area.
Many new residents of the County and of areas to the North and South (e.g. Albany, Kingston), as well as visitors to the Hudson Valley, are seeking locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, both organic and non-organic. County farmers are already capitalizing on these opportunities in the promotion of farm stands. There are also Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms operating successfully in Greene County.
Agricultural District Law:
The constitution of the State of New York directs the state legislature to provide for the protection of agricultural lands. It is the purpose of the Agricultural Districts Law to provide a locally-initiated mechanism for the protection and enhancement of New York State’s agricultural land as a viable segment of the local and state economies and as an economic and environmental resource of major importance.
Enacted in 1971, New York’s Agricultural Districts Law (Article 25AA of New York State Agriculture and Markets Law)(AML) is a very effective tool for maintaining lands in agriculture and ensuring New York’s position as an outstanding agricultural state. The Agricultural Districts Law recognizes that agricultural lands are important and irreplaceable resources, which are in jeopardy of being lost as a result of increasing cost of agricultural businesses, development pressures and regulatory constraints. The Law seeks to create economic and regulatory incentives which encourage farmers to continue farming. Relying primarily on the initiative of landowners and local governments, with state oversight, the law provides agricultural landowners with a number of benefits and protections.
Agricultural Districts Law and Local Regulations:
New York State Agricultural District Law protects farm operations within an agricultural district from the enactment and administration of unreasonably restrictive local regulations unless it can be shown that public health and safety is threatened. It is important to note that Agricultural Districts does not give a farm owner any as-of-right exemption or waiver from local regulations. Rather, the Agricultural District Law provides farm owners within an agricultural district assistance from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets in instances in which the farmer believes that local regulatory requirements are unreasonably restricting the farm operation. The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets evaluates the reasonableness of a specific requirement or process imposed on a farm operation on a case-by-case basis and works with both the farm owner and the municipality to achieve the best solution possible. The Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets does, however, have the authority to institute an action or compel a municipality to comply with this provision of the Agricultural Districts Law. In such instances, the municipality must demonstrate that the regulation or requirement is necessary for the protection of public health and safety. The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets has developed guidelines on the effect of Agricultural Districts Law AML 25AA, §305-a on enactment and administration of local laws and regulations. In particular, the Guidelines for Review of Local Zoning and Planning Laws guidance document provides valuable information on a variety of local regulatory issues. These documents are updated periodically and may be obtained from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets at the following links: Zoning Guidelines and Agricultural Districts
Agricultural Districts Law and Local Planning:
State certified agricultural districts and county agricultural and farmland protection plans are community shaping influences in much the same way as existing and proposed infrastructure; wetlands, floodplains; topographical features; cultural, historic, and social amenities; economic needs; etc. are viewed. The Agricultural Districts law is a valuable planning tool to conserve, protect, and encourage the development and improvement of the agricultural economy; protect agricultural lands as valued natural and ecological resources; and preserve open space. In addition to AML Article 25AA, §305-a, limitations on local authority in Town Law §283-a and Village Law §7-739 were enacted to ensure that agricultural interests are taken into consideration during the review of specific land use proposals. Town Law §283-a (1) and Village Law §7-739 (1), as amended by chapter 331 of the Laws of 2002, require local governments to “…exercise their powers to enact local laws, ordinances, rules or regulations that apply to farm operations in contravention of the purposes of article twenty-five-AA of the agriculture and markets law, unless it can be shown that the public health or safety is threatened.” These amendments make the Town and Village Law provisions consistent with AML section 305-a regarding showing a threat to the public health or safety. AML §305-a, subdivision 1 is not a stand-alone requirement for coordination of local planning and land use decision making with the agricultural districts program. Rather, it is one that is fully integrated with the comprehensive planning, zoning and land use review process.
Agricultural Districts Law and Property Ownership Disclosure:
• 310 of the Agricultural Districts Law requires that when any purchase and sale contract is presented for the sale, purchase, or exchange of real property located partially, or wholly within an agricultural district, the prospective grantor shall present to the prospective grantee a disclosure notice which states the following:
“It is the policy of this state and this community to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of agricultural land for the production of food, and other products, and also for its natural and ecological value. This disclosure notice is to inform prospective residents that the property they are about to acquire lies partially or wholly within an agricultural district and that farming activities occur within the district. Such farming activities may include, but not be limited to, activities that cause noise, dust, and odors. Prospective residents are also informed that the location of property within an agricultural district may impact the ability to access local municipal water and/or sewer services for such property under certain circumstances.”
Based on the 2017 Ag Census, from 2012 to 2017, Greene County lost 67 farms, from 273 down to 206, almost a 25% loss. In this same timeframe there was a loss of 8,007 acres of farmland, from 42,986 acres down to 34,979, an 18.6% loss. The 2012 Census of Agriculture identified 273 farms covering 42, 986 acres in Greene County. The 2017 Census of Agriculture identified 206 farms in Greene County encompassing 34,979 acres of farmland.
Most farms lost were mid-size farms. A total of 28 farms of 50-179 acres were lost and 25 farms of 180 to 499 acres were lost from 2012 to 2017. In 2017, the majority of farms in the county are of this mid size with a 133 farms in the 50-499 acre range. In 2012, 196 farms totaling 18,716 acres were in cropland. In 2017, that number fell to 161 farms totaling 13,719 acres. The change represents a loss of 35 farms and 4,997 acres of cropland.
The market value of agricultural products sold in the County went from approximately $22.3 million in 2012, down to about $19.9 million in 2017. However, the average market value of agricultural products sold per farm increased from $82,000 in 2012 to close to $96,000 in 2017. (Dollar figures are expressed in current dollars and have not been adjusted for inflation or deflation).