Montgomery County

Montgomery County updating agriculture protection plan

Montgomery County is working with a research firm in Syracuse to update the county’s agricultural an
Mitch Hoffman, second generation apple farmer, picks Honeycrisp apples at the Sand Flats Orchards in Fonda in this September 2015 file photo.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mitch Hoffman, second generation apple farmer, picks Honeycrisp apples at the Sand Flats Orchards in Fonda in this September 2015 file photo.

Montgomery County is working with a research firm in Syracuse to update the county’s agricultural and farmland protection plan, which is meant to identify and prioritize initiatives that will increase the economic viability of agriculture and agri-business in the county.

Bill Roehr, a senior planner with the county’s economic development and planning office, said several threats to farming in the county have been identified since the plan was last updated in 2004.

The median age of farmers in the county, for instance, is now somewhere between 57 and 58 years old.

“It’s old,” said Roehr, of the finding. What’s more, he added, is farms aren’t being passed down to successive generations at the same rate as they used to be. “There’s an issue with farms no longer being transferred intergenerationally.”

While Montgomery County’s farmland typically stays in the agricultural sector even as it may change hands, there is a threat, particularly in the eastern portion of the county, of land being subdivided for other uses, said Roehr.

And the existential threat of the aging farmer population still looms large. One of the key components of the county’s push for a more robust agricultural sector is engaging youth through education, particularly in getting involved in an agricultural technical school opening in the 2016-17 school year through the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES program.

The county is also looking to conduct an audit that will identify land use regulations throughout the county that may hinder farming operations, an initiative that the plan update will address.

The plan update project was awarded to Syracuse-based Environmental Design and Research and will cost $45,000. The county is putting up $10,000 with the remainder coming from a $35,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Montgomery County is putting an additional $15,000 worth of man hours toward the project, according to Roehr.

Two companies had submitted a proposal for the plan update, he said, but EDR won because of its extensive background in compiling these types of reports.

“They have a lot of experience doing these, they have the ability to go in and take a look at agricultural economics,” he said. “To an extent they’re generalists but they’ve carved out a niche in doing these agricultural plans.”

Roehr said he’s looked at plans EDR has compiled that would be similar in style to what Montgomery County is looking for and thinks the firm is the right fit.

“Their approach to each engagement is organic and it was plausible,” said Roehr. “They came across as pretty strong.”

According to a specifications document that went out with the county’s request for proposals, creation of the plan update should involve interviews and engagement with farmers, consumers, and public and private agencies involved in the agricultural economy, as well as surveys of local planning boards.

Roehr said the plan update will identify several agricultural initiatives that could get off the ground in the next one to four years with proper funding. He expects to have the plan in six months, after which the county will pick three projects to put through an extensive “critical thinking” process before working to secure funding from state and federal sources.

“We’re going to identify a whole bunch of things to be funded and the fact that we’ll have a new plan in place to identify what those initiatives will be gives us a big competitive advantage in going after that money,” said Roehr.

The plan also has to be approved by the Montgomery County Legislature and submitted to Agriculture and Markets.

Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.

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