Impact of Agricultural District Consolidation on New York Farmers

DEWITVILLE, NY — This year marks the 50th anniversary of New York’s agricultural districts. Districts are basically geographic areas of farmland and are there to protect farmers.

For example, suppose two farms have existed for generations, several miles from a neighboring suburb. Over time, new housing estates appear and the suburb expands, eventually bordering on long-standing farms. Some people in new developments decide they don’t like the sound of tractors, animal crossings, or the smell of manure. These new neighbors can try to act; however, the farms were in an agricultural district long before these new homes were built, which shields farmers from many of these complaints.

The number of agricultural districts has increased over the years, but efforts are now being made to consolidate some of them. Districts are of significant importance to farmers, but the state puts its stamp of approval on having fewer.

A wet spring set the stage for a dry and hot summer growing season at Country Ayre Farms in Dewittville, Chautauqua County.

“We love the farm,” said co-owner Heather Woodis. “The farm has a very strong history.”

Woodis is part of the multi-generational dairy operation that milks approximately 750 cows. She says the farm helps make Chautauqua one of the most diverse agricultural counties in the state.

“There’s dairy, there’s grapes, row crops,” Woodis said.

His farm, along with the others, is grouped into what are called agricultural districts, or geographic areas comprising about seven municipalities each with viable farmland. There are now four districts, consolidated from eight and 13 in 1995, designed in part to protect farmers and keep the industry viable.

“The farm can be noisy; we have tractors running, we have equipment running,” Woodis said. “There are cows. You can hear the animals. We spread manure, so sometimes we can be a bit smelly.”

“Agricultural districts really benefit the farmer for the right to farm,” said Rebecca Wurster, Chautauqua County Planning Coordinator.

County planning chiefs developed district consolidation as a way to better rationalize, manage, and review farming communities. The county received state approval for its plan in May.

“At the end of the day, it took a long process to get approval for the eight-to-four consolidation, but we’re also seeing huge benefits in municipalities,” Wurster said.

“If it makes sense, we’ll approve it,” said Agriculture and State Markets Commissioner Richard Ball. “It’s kind of a conservation tool.”

Ball, also a dairy farmer, says the first agricultural district was formed in his home county of Schoharie 50 years ago in 1972. He says Chautauqua is one of many statewide consolidations, with 154 districts in 53 of the state’s 62 counties, as of January, covering more than 9 million acres on more than 26,000 farms.

This is down from 421 districts in 1991, as municipalities expand.

“People [are] decide they don’t like a farm next door for whatever reason,” Ball said. “It gives farmers the opportunity to have protections against suburban neighbors moving in.”

Farmers like Woodis, who also sits on the county’s farmland protection board along with other farmers in the district, are making sure their land is preserved for future generations.

“We are all working toward the same goal of keeping Chautauqua County among the top agricultural counties in the state,” Woodis said.

Each district is reviewed every eight years. As part of this eight-year review, counties can add more land to their agricultural districts.

Ball says a major lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that because of agricultural districts, the state can continue to provide food to its communities without having to depend on another country or another. part of the world.

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