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Chipping Away at the Farmland Protection Backlog

Chris and Curt Gillette on their farm in Town of Jersualem, Yates County with Keuka Lake in background.

Chris and Curt Gillette on their farm in the town of Jersualem, Yates County, with Keuka Lake in background.

Governor Cuomo has held the line at $12 million in funding for New York’s Farmland Protection Program in his Executive Budget Proposal for fiscal year 2012-2013. This is the same amount he proposed last year, which was supported by the legislature. Although a far cry from the $30 million the program received in 2008, it is a big improvement. During the height of the budget battles in 2010, the program’s available cash was slashed to a mere $5.2 million—not nearly enough to address the backlog of $70 million in farmland protection funds that had been awarded to 61 farm families. As we head into budget negotiations this month, the project backlog has been reduced to $46 million but we still have a long way to go.

The good news is that several farms across the state have recently closed on the sale of their development rights using state funding. In eastern New York, the Agricultural Stewardship Association, working with a combination of state funding and contributions from local foundations, shepherded through the closing on several easements, protecting a total of 1,273 acres of farmland used for dairy. Participating farms and landowners include Mat and Peggy Cannon of Cannon Cattle Ranch; landowner Theresa Baum; John and Mary McMahon and their son Dan McMahon of Hooskip Farm; and Stearns Brothers Farm and farmer Dan Clark.

The Agricultural Stewardship Association coordinated funding for the farmland protection projects, working with Washington and Rensselaer counties to use a combination of money from the New York State Farmland Protection Program, the Castanea Foundation and the Whipstock Preservation Society.

“It’s a good fit for us,” said Matt Cannon of Cannon Cattle Ranch, a dairy farm in the town of Pittstown. “We worked hard to build this farm, our retirement is in it and we don’t want to see it go down the drain. We want to see another farmer here someday.”

Meanwhile in central New York, the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County, collaborating with farmers Curtis and Susan Gillette and Eugene and Francis Wilson, have successfully worked with the state’s Farmland Protection Program to permanently protect 396 acres of farmland on two farms. [Read a press release about the Gillette and Wilson easement completions.]

The Gillette farm is a fourth generation diversified operation that grows a variety of field crops as well as grapes and raises beef steers in the town of Jerusalem less than a mile from Keuka Lake. The Wilson farm is an organic crop farm that produces corn, soybeans and small grains in the town of Torrey near Seneca Lake.

“Farmland is vital to the future of Yates County and the entire Finger Lakes Region,” said Andrew Zepp, executive director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust. “We are grateful to the commitment the farmers have made to both the land and the community. We also greatly appreciate the support of Yates County, New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Partridge Foundation. Each of these partners was essential to making this project possible.”

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