Farmland Protection Plan Nears Completion in New York

After two years, Washington County’s new agriculture and farmland protection plan is nearly done.

It’s getting high marks from farmers, but some of the recommendations didn’t impress the county supervisors when they saw the draft plan last week. They were particularly concerned by a proposal for at least one paid coordinator to implement the plan.

“It’ll be up to you all to figure out how that gets (funded),” said Nan Stolzenburg, the consultant who helped draw up the plan. Community Planning and Environmental Associates was hired to update the county’s plan, which was last written 20 years ago.

The plan also calls for someone — such as the coordinator — to lobby for lower taxes for farmers. That could include restructuring property taxes so that farmland has a lower tax rate. Supervisors didn’t greet that idea with enthusiasm either.

But those who wrote the plan assured the supervisors that many recommendations can be accomplished without paid staff. While it would be easier to have someone organizing the effort, they said things can be done on a volunteer basis.

The plan calls for organized cooperation to meet the new rules of today’s world. Farmers want a shared facility for cold storage and freezer space. They also need support to meet new food safety requirements, which can require expensive investments.

Shared facilities would help a great deal, said farmer Mary Pratt of Elihu Farm in Easton.

“You used to be able to rent a freezer 40 years ago or so,” she said.

She is hoping that rental locations are set up in several locations throughout the county. That’s what farmers need — not one location that could be an hour’s drive away, she said.

To preserve farms for decades to come, the plan calls for an increase in meat and protein processing, which means improving local farms’ capacity and efficiency.

The plan also proposes promoting hops farming and providing training in “alternative crops,” including vineyards, honey, hops and hemp.

If a coordinator is funded to work on the plan, that person could also try to get more state funding to preserve smaller farms. That’s what Pratt is hoping will happen.

“It’s the smaller parcels. If they can’t preserve that, that’s more likely to get houses on it,” she said. “The state is mostly interested in protecting large parcels.”

The plan also issues a plea for workers.

“One thing we heard over and over was, we need a skilled labor force,” Stolzenburg said. “Skilled labor is a critical component to make sure we have successful farms.”

Skilled labor isn’t people who help with the harvest. It’s people who can handle machinery — operating it, cleaning it and fixing it, she said.

The plan will be presented to the public in late January or early February.

Source: The Post-Star

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