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New York state law speeds process for protecting farmland from development

American Farmland Trust (AFT) is applauding state legislation that was signed into law on May 25 that will cut red tape for farmers participating in New York’s Farmland Protection Program.  The legislation makes land trusts eligible to apply directly to the state’s Farmland Protection Program for funding to permanently protect working farms from development.

Until now, only municipalities and counties have been eligible to apply for funding from the state’s Farmland Protection Program. In 75% of funded projects, towns and counties have subsequently contracted with private land trusts to complete the projects and ensure that participating farms remain permanently protected.

“This legislation will help farmers protect their land more quickly, while ensuring transparency and accountability in the process,” says David Haight, New York Director for the American Farmland Trust.

"This law, that was recently signed by the Governor, will no doubt improve the time and process necessary to complete farmland protection projects,” says Assemblyman William Magee (D-NY 111), who is the chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and sponsored the bill.  “For years I have been actively working towards keeping our farmlands vital in New York State and continuing to develop new ways to protect our farmlands."

“Farmland preservation protects our open spaces from development, provides revenue for farmers, and keeps our land producing food for New York families,” says Senator Darrel J. Aubertine (D-NY 48), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who co-sponsored the legislation. Aubertine is a  longtime support of farmland protection and organizations like New York Agricultural Land Trust and American Farmland Trust. “This will expand the opportunities for farmers throughout the state by enabling land trusts to help farmers apply for preservation grants.”

“Local governments have historically relied on local land trusts, which often are the final holders of the easement, to help them through this complex process.” says Maureen Knapp, a livestock and fruit farmer and interim executive director of the New York Agricultural Land Trust.  “This new law makes sense. It will shorten the length of time for farmers it takes for farmers to protect their land and makes the program more efficient.”

The state’s Farmland Protection Program provides funding for “purchase of development rights” projects. This voluntary approach pays farmland owners to convey a permanent deed restriction called an agricultural conservation easement that permanently extinguishes the right to develop the property and limits the use of enrolled properties to agriculture and other compatible uses. Participating farms remain in private ownership and on the tax rolls.

As of 2009, more than $173 million has been awarded by the Farmland Protection Program to protect over 73,000 acres of farmland on more than 300 farms. The program receives its funding from New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund, a dedicated fund for more than 30 programs that protect the state’s air, water and land resources.

“This is a good step, but more work needs to be done,” says Haight. “We’ve got to complete the approximately 70 farmland protection projects that have been funded but not completed and make further reforms so that working farms are protected faster.”  

Haight adds, “Every three days New York State loses a farm to development.  These purchase of development rights projects enable farmers to tap into one of their largest sources of equity--their land. Farmers can protect their land while gaining access to capital that they can then reinvest in their businesses. That’s good for farmers, good for rural businesses and strengthens New York’s long-term food security.”

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