Saving the farmland for generations to come

Loujane Johns
A new day dawns over a Yates County farm.

More than half of the land in Yates County is designated as agricultural.

On Feb. 18, an audience of about 25 gathered in the Torrey Town Hall to learn how farmland protection can preserve valuable farm acreage  for future generations. 

Dan Spence, a member of the Town of Torrey comprehensive plan committee, had gone to a presentation at Jordan Hall in Geneva on farmland protection. 

He was impressed by the presentation given by Peter Landre, Executive Director of the Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension.  Spence thought the information fit in well with work being done to complete the Torrey Comprehensive Plan.  He asked Landre to speak to the group.

Landre began by giving the audience some statistics about Yates County Agriculture. 

There are presently 722 farms and the number is growing.  “In 1980 there were 100 dairy farms, today there are over 210,” he said. Interestingly, grape acreage is down, but wine grape acreage is up.  This, he said, is due to wineries putting smaller acreage into specialized varieties.  The number of greenhouses in the county has also grown. 

Landre said farmlands in Yates County are in one Agriculture District.  State laws concerning these districts, prohibit towns from enacting land use regulations restricting the operation of farms within the district.  Towns and zoning boards must take a close look at variances within the districts in order to protect farmland.

On the other hand, real estate agents are bound by law to disclose to buyers of property adjacent to farmland about noise, dust and odors involved in farm operations. Landre said this is part of a “good neighbor policy” to let buyers know that agriculture will happen.

According to Landre, New York State is losing six percent of its farmland every year.  The state is willing to invest money for the right farms in the right areas under the Farm Land Implementation Plan.

Landre explained the process.  The applicant supplies information to the Agriculture Farmland Protection Board. The proposal is reviewed and rated. The application includes an appraisal and market analysis. If the project is accepted, an agreement is made with the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the county legislature.

The landowner agrees to cover 25 percent of the total project cost. The farm owner can recoup some of the cost as an “in kind” donation.  Landre suggested having a good accountant.  “If you do this for the money,  it’s not for you,”  he said.

In a nationwide survey of such transactions the driving force was listed as wanting the land to be preserved forever.  He said counties are the only entities which can apply, not the individual. The state’s share of the money is used to buy development rights  and the land trust monitors the project. The entire process takes from two to three years.

The project allows the landowner a lot of flexibility for more buildings, wind farms and mineral rights — almost anything but land use for development, Landre said.

The first criteria for acceptance is good soil for crops.  The second is that the farm is in a good location to act as a buffer for natural resources. 

Landre cited the two farms now in the program.  Both farms are located on State Route 14A, south of Penn Yan.  The farms are close together and border the Penn Yan Airport Property.  This area will now be protected from development and expansion. 

“Yates County wants to put in the very best projects for applications.  We are now two for two.  Applications came from all over the state,”  Landre said. Counties can submit three applications a year.

Bringing the Torrey area into perspective, Landre said there is lots of prime soil in the town.  “It took 10,000 years to produce that soil and should not be taken lightly.” He used maps to show that Torrey has extensive areas of farmland.  Of interest to some grape growers in the audience, he showed a map of growing areas.  Landre said an intern last summer mapped, by sight, all the grape land by variety levels and plots for future vineyards. “Based on this mapping, we can show the farmer where good areas are for varieties of grapes,” he explained.

The information on land is timely, since Torrey is finishing its comprehensive plan.   The Town of Torrey Board also has been dealing with a proposed large development in the town on farmland south of Dresden for some time.