Representative Gibson and CLC staff visit farmer Rick Skoda at Triple Creek Farm in Taghkanic
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC), Scenic Hudson, and Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC) $2.56 million in federal funding to help preserve nearly 1,250 acres of productive farmland in Columbia and Dutchess counties. The farms are vitally important to the region because they produce local, healthy food and contribute to the local economy. Agreements already have been reached with the seven working family farms for the purchase of conservation easements (also called purchase of development rights) on the farms.
The federal grant is through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is funded through the Farm Bill and its Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). The FRPP provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural use. The USDA provides up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value of the conservation easement. The last step to complete the $5.3-million conservation effort will be accomplished through a combination of funding from Scenic Hudson, private donors, and other public sources.
It is our goal through this program to ensure we assist landowners in protecting productive farmland and continued agricultural use in New York State.
New York NRCS State Conservationist Donald J. Pettit
Farms provide critical natural resources
The properties are important for their current farm operations, wildlife habitat, scenic qualities and because they are part of communities with strong agricultural economies. Five of the farms, totaling 950 acres, are in Columbia County—three in Stuyvesant and one each in Taghkanic and Livingston. Both Dutchess County farms are in Red Hook. The farm properties include prime soils, statewide important soils, forest land, and wetlands designated for special protections by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some of the properties also provide habitat for northern harrier, a long-tailed hawk whose population has been in decline, as well as golden club, a threatened plant species.
Farms help fuel local economies but are under great stress
Communities benefit powerfully from local farms. In addition to providing healthy food, family farms contribute to the area’s scenic beauty, rural character, and economic opportunity. Columbia County farms provide $66 million in revenue, and Dutchess County farms generate $45 million. Farmland also helps keep local taxes in check by requiring fewer municipal services than farm owners pay in property taxes.
Despite these benefits, farms are at increasing risk. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, from 2002 to 2007, Columbia County lost over 13,000 acres of working farmland. In Dutchess County, nearly 10,000 acres were lost. As a reflection of this trend, the American Farmland Trust has identified the Hudson Valley among its listings of threatened agricultural areas in the country. Historically New York State loses 10 times more farmland to development than it protects each year.
We are working to ensure that agriculture remains a dynamic part of Columbia County’s landscape, identity, and economy. Scenic Hudson has been a great partner in this effort, and we are glad to work with the Dutchess Land Conservancy to support working farms across the region. By pooling our skills and resources, we look forward to many more conservation achievements.
CLC Executive Director Peter Paden
“The award of this grant will be a great boost to Columbia County agriculture. Protection of the five Columbia County farms included in this grant will help stabilize the land base for our farmers and ensure that farming remains a central part of our economic and community life,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Pat Grattan. “We are very grateful to these families for their commitment to farming and to Scenic Hudson and the Columbia Land Conservancy for the hard work and substantial resources they have committed to make this process successful.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, an advocate for protecting farmland, said, “Congratulations to these three innovative land preservation groups for their success in securing funding to help protect farmland in both Dutchess and Columbia counties. Our office is proud to support their efforts, particularly at the federal level through USDA grant programs. I look forward to working with all the partners engaged in this critical effort, which helps sustain the vital agriculture and tourism segments of our region’s economy.”
“New York is home to some of the nation’s hardest working farmers, who spread their locally-grown products across the globe,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Ensuring that our farmers have the appropriate space to grow their products is paramount to the economic success of the agricultural industry in New York. This preservation of farmland in the Hudson Valley is an excellent way to ensure that New York’s farmers have a stage to share their crops with the local community and the world.”
Groups responding with ramped-up collaboration
This farmland conservation initiative results from a growing collaboration between Scenic Hudson, CLC, and DLC, and builds on numerous successful joint projects in recent years. Scenic Hudson and CLC in 2011 collaborated with four groups of Stuyvesant landowners to permanently protect 399 acres with conservation easements and enabled one local farm to expand its operation. The newly announced grants support both the Town of Stuyvesant’s and the Town of Taghkanic’s Comprehensive Plans. Both plans state the importance of preserving farms and farmland.
Over the past 15 years, easement programs in the Hudson Valley have put $95 million directly into the hands of farmers. This investment has helped allow agriculture to continue to thrive, advanced new opportunities for young farmers and allowed farmers to invest directly in their operations. At the same time, it has benefited communities. According to the American Farmland Trust, for every $1 invested in conservation, $4 is returned to the local economy as farmers invest in their operations.
Lands with conservation easements remain privately owned. Landowners participate voluntarily and can continue to live on, farm and enjoy their property as well as pay property taxes. Farmers often use funds from the easement purchase to reinvest in their farm operations and expand production.
Federal grant complements state investment
In addition to the new federal grant, the conservation groups already have received two other grants. The grants provide $78,000 for staff costs, with the monies coming from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program, funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and administered by the Land Trust Alliance.
“The Conservation Partnership Program grants of $1.4 million demonstrate New York State’s continued commitment to the local land trusts who are dedicated to providing clean air, water, food, and places of recreation to the communities they serve. Not only will these investments in land conservation boost property values and protect public health, but they will also support local businesses, thus saving tax dollars,” said state Sen. Mark Grisanti, chairman of the New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.
“Conservation Catalyst grants are awarded for land trust projects that demonstrate a level of innovation and collaboration, public support, and engagement, and that will lead to the protection and stewardship of environmentally significant lands,” said Land Trust Alliance Northeast Director Kevin Case. “The partnership between Scenic Hudson, Dutchess Land Conservancy, and Columbia Land Conservancy serves as a model and will help ensure the conservation of one of New York’s most vital economic assets, more than 1,000 acres of productive farmland.”