State officials announced yesterday that for the first time in five years, a significant amount of funding will be available to help protect New York State’s vulnerable farmland.

More than $20 million will be handed out over the next year to organizations, municipalities, counties, and not-for-profit organizations to fund protection efforts that keep viable agricultural land from being converted to non-agricultural use.

From the press release:

“Protecting and maintaining farmland is vital to supporting the continued growth of New York’s robust agricultural industries,” Governor Cuomo said.

“Farming supports jobs, businesses and economic activity in communities across the State, ultimately representing a cornerstone of our State’s economy. This funding will help to make sure that farms are kept in production, given the tools to grow, and ensure support for farmers and their families.”

A Pressing Issue

Photo credit: Keith Mountain
Photo credit: Keith Mountain

Nationwide, an acre of farmland is lost to real estate development every minute of every day. In the Northeast, this loss is particularly extreme; according to the American Farmland Trust, New York has lost more than 452,000 acres of farmland to development since the 1980s.

Nationwide, an acre of farmland is lost to real estate development every minute of every day.

The USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture results released this month shows that the nation’s farmers are also continuing to age. In New York State, the average age of a farmer has increased to 57, nearly 17 years older than the age of the average American worker.

As these farmers begin to age out of the workforce, millions of acres of farmland in the United States will either transition to the next generation or be lost to development, making permanent protection efforts vital.

A New Strategy

Photo credit: Joshua Bousel via Creative Commons
Photo credit: Joshua Bousel via Creative Commons

Protection efforts through New York’s Farmland Protection Program will come primarily in the form of permanent conservation easements, however the state has dedicated $2 million of the funding to a new “incentive payment agreement” program, also known as “lease of development rights.”

This trial program would allow eligible entities to make multi-year commitments to landowners, working with the landowners to seek other funding arrangements to effectively create a perpetual conservation easement on these lands. The press release states that “this particular tool has been identified in municipal agricultural and farmland protection plans adopted across New York.”

Application materials and important webinar information for the Farmland Protection Implementation Grants are available for download on the Department of Agriculture and Markets website. Application materials are also available by calling the Department directly at 1-800-554-4501.