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Schoharie Supers Approve Farmland Protection Plan

Written By Editor on 1/20/17 | 1/20/17

Schoharie County took a step toward agricultural sustainability, according to a comprehensive overhaul of local farm planning adopted by the County Board on January 20th.

Nan Stolzenburg presented the draft Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan which updates the prior edition from 2001. She said that there is $157.7 million in annual agricultural economic output per year. Over 1,100 county residents are employed in agriculture. There are currently 532 farms and 98,369 acres of farm land-- down 14,000 since 2002. Dairy is the largest share of the farms and Stolzenburg described the sector as the “most stressed.”

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The Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board considered several key aspects of the industry. These included allowing farms to be economically profitable and sustainable, increasing flexibility, improving farm infrastructure, including broadband, and attracting young farmers.

Stolzenburg said that agricultural processing can assist the wider economy. She said that this could increase agru-tourism. In addition, the presenter said that this plan would help preserve farmland and increase needed training for farmers.

The plan calls for a streamlining of local bureaucracy in order to allow a more efficient system. This includes an Agricultural Economic Development Implementation committee. Stolzenburg said that it was important for the committee to be active and “not just sit on a shelf.” This would also allow more individualized service for farmers and assist in the ability of the County to apply for grants. She said that NYS Ag and Markets may have money available but that the County in the past has not been prepared to apply for them. Stolzenburg specifically cited a grant for a small grains clearinghouse.

The proposal had several ideas to assist farmers specifically. This included a potential revolving loan fund and micro-loans for farmers. It would also establish a business incubator program and working with the IDA on ag projects. The draft also recommends the creation of a marketing plan. It would also strengthen bonds with SUNY Cobleskill and local FFA chapters, perhaps through mentoring.

Chair Earl VanWormer recognized the members of the farmland protection board present, including Chair Richard Bates. A series of farmers, county employees, organizations, SUNY Cobleskill.

The Chair also recognized County Administrator Steve Wilson, who said that if approved, the County would form an implementation team. He said that there was already a funding line in the budget that may be funded through grants.

Several Supervisors had questions. Supervisor Leo McAllister of Cobleskill said that he was concerned that the plan may open the door for farmers not being able to utilize their property for purposes other than farming. Stolzenburg said that was not the case. Supervisor Dave Simkins of Broome said that many new farmers are Amish and Mennonites. VanWormer said that the plan was a “living document” that would be adjusted as needed. Supervisor Bradt asked if the towns’ individual farming plans would work on their own. Stolzenburg said that four towns currently having ag plans and that the County plan was not meant to “override” any on the local level. “It’s not a land use-oriented plan at all,” she said.
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Former Real Property Director Marjorie Troidl made several comments. She said that the plan is support for communities, including not limiting communities. “It’s a base moving forward,” she said. She said that since retiring, she realized how difficult keeping a 135 farm is. “Where do we go for slaughtering?” She said that only several farms were able to use the college facility. She also said that it was hard to get products to the market. She recommended hiring one employee and working with Cornell Cooperative Extension. “It’s not a lost document,” she said. “It could turn into something very positive for our county.”

Chair VanWormer asked for comments. Ag and Farmland Protection Board Chair Richard Bates said that it is becoming harder and harder to make ends meet on his farm. He said that the proposal can foster local spirit of “working together.” David Cox from Cooperative Extension said that the Ag and Farmland Board has been hard at work to make the project work. “I urge you to adopt this and own it,” he said. Supervisor Pete Coppolo thanked the members for their work and asked if there was a way to work with legislators to advocate for farmers. Supervisor Tony VanGlad said that different agricultural organizations do advocate in Albany and could be helped by a coordinator. He said that the Farm Bureau has been tireless in working for farmers. “Marketing is the answer,” he said.

The Ag and Farmland Protection Board already approved the draft, leaving it to the Supervisors. The Board adopted the plan unanimously.

The draft plan was funded through a grant from the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets and the County.
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