Sullivan ag district loses 2,000 acres

By CHARLIE BUTERBAUGH

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — While 2,000 acres will be removed from one of Sullivan County’s agricultural districts, Joe Walsh, director of the county’s agricultural board, described the net change as “pretty normal.”

Requests for removing land from New York State Agricultural District 1 came mainly from landowners planning to develop their properties, Walsh said. In other cases, the board found that certain farms were no longer agriculturally viable. In the Town of Bethel, the Gerry Foundation removed about 150 acres, land on which the foundation is currently building the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

The Sullivan County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board is required to review each of the county’s two districts every eight years. Upon recommendation from the board, on September 22 the county Legislature approved the removal of a collection of properties from District 1—now a 118,000-acre domain of farmlands in the western half of the county. Additional acres could be removed before the next review.

The districts protect farmlands from eminent domain proceedings and preserve agricultural operations like spreading manure and keeping livestock on smaller properties, even if local zoning laws place restrictions on such undertakings, Walsh said.

In Sullivan County, almost 40 percent of all farmland is not owned by the people who utilize it for production. The districts provide vital protection for this workforce, Walsh said. Farming in the county produces an annual economic value of $66.7 million (see table below).

In order to be included in an agricultural district, landowners of at least seven acres must produce at least $10,000 per year from selling crops, livestock or livestock products; owners of less than seven acres must produce at least $50,000 per year. Each accepted landowner has to pay taxes on the property value assessments based on agricultural production, not on a property’s potential for residential or commercial development.

Sullivan County Commissioner of Planning and Community Development Dr. William Pammer said the state agricultural district program, “a passive mechanism to preserve farming in Sullivan County,” needs to be coupled with open space and farmland preservation bonds at the county level if residents want to effectively limit the conversion of farmland into housing developments.

“We can’t rely on the state or federal government,” Pammer said.

Pammer also said residential development designs that set aside open space need to be supported by towns.

TRR photo by Charlie Buterbaugh
Joe Walsh, director of the Sullivan County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, describes changes to one of the county’s agricultural districts. (click for larger image)