Saratoga Springs, New York, December 18, 2008—“The state budget cuts proposed on Tuesday are going to severely hurt farmland conservation programs that benefit all New Yorkers,” said David Haight, New York Director for American Farmland Trust. “These programs support farmers and rural businesses, while enabling farms to produce fresh, healthy foods, clean water and the beautiful landscapes that define much of New York.”
Earlier this week, Governor Paterson proposed cutting the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) from $255 million to $205 million in the 2008-09 state budget and appropriating only $205 million to the EPF in the 2009-10 budget, rather than the $300 million required by state law. Included in these cuts is a 40 percent reduction in annual funding for the state’s Farmland Protection Program. This popular program strengthens the state’s $23 billion farm and food economy, while helping farmers protect valuable farmland from being developed
Bob Reynolds, an Erie County Legislator said, “Agriculture is important to all New Yorkers. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city or in the country, we all need to eat and benefit from having farms in New York. Investments in protecting farmland and supporting our farmers are good for our economy and our future.”
Joe Gergela, Executive Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau said, “These cuts will mean
$4.5 million less to help us protect our farms in Suffolk County. We have some of the most threatened farmland in the country and need state dollars to leverage county and town funding to protect it.”
“The $22.5 million proposed to be cut from the Farmland Protection Program will have tremendous implications for farm families and related businesses,” said Haight. “These cuts would mean that almost 90 percent of farmers, or roughly 170 farm families, interested in protecting their land this year will be turned away. This is not the time to be cutting programs that stimulate our farm economy while protecting our environment.”
“Farms are the anchor to upstate New York’s economy,” said Nancy Hourigan, a dairy farmer from the town of Elbridge, Onondaga County. “When we help farmers protect their land, we are helping them strengthen their businesses and their future. Our farm employs 30 people and we see programs like the Farmland Protection Program as important to our business’ future.”
Teri Ptacek, Executive Director for the Agricultural Stewardship Association, an agricultural land trust operating in the Washington County region, added, “Agriculture is so important to our regional economy. Hardware stores, machinery dealers, milk processors, and tourism—they all benefit from a strong farm economy and investments in protecting our farmland. We need the state’s help now more than ever before.”
Haight also noted that farmers produce more than food, fiber and renewable energy. “Farmers can contribute to a cleaner environment and to a healthier climate. And, agriculture is a low-cost solution to critical environmental issues.”
“We recognize that times are tough,” added Haight. “But, there are solutions out there that can generate revenue while cleaning up our environment.” An expansion of the state’s Bottle Bill law to include nickel deposits on noncarbonated beverages, such as water and iced tea, could generate more than $200 million annually. Such legislation would encourage recycling and help keep litter out of farm fields.
Haight continued, “We encourage the legislature and governor to work together to find solutions that won’t devastate these environmental programs that boost our economy. Passing the Bottle Bill and maintaining the integrity of the EPF makes sense for the environment, the economy and our communities.”
New York’s Farmland Protection Program was created in 1996 and provides grants for eligible towns and counties to purchase development rights on farmland. Purchase of development rights (PDR) is a voluntary farmland protection technique that pays farmland owners to permanently conserve their land for agriculture. Purchase of development rights places a deed restriction—known as a conservation easement—on enrolled property. When farmland owners sell their development rights, they retain all other ownership rights and can continue to farm as before.
New York has allocated more than $144.5 million from the EPF for the Farmland Protection Program to help protect 63,700 acres on 276 farms in 28 counties. The enacted 2008-09 state budget allocated $30 million from the EPF to the Farmland Protection Program. In 2008, there were
190 farm families across New York interested in participating in the Farmland Protection Program to protect 49,400 acres at a cost of $156.5 million.