MONTGOMERY COUNTY — A state land preservation grant program will help ensure one family-owned farm remains forever farmland through a $932,389 award to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday announced that the Farmland Protection Implementation Grant Program through the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has awarded over $31.5 million toward the conservation of 15,600 acres of agricultural land on 30 farms statewide.
“These Farmland Protection awards will give farmers much-needed support to conserve land, diversify their operations to expand market opportunities, and continue to produce and sell a diverse array of New York-made foods. Farming has long been an important part of the state’s economy and this program will preserve more than 15,000 acres for the next generation of New York farmers,” said Cuomo in a prepared statement.
Among the funding awards, over $20.9 million will support conservation easement projects on 22 dairy farms statewide through the FPIG Dairy Transitions Farmland Protection Initiative. Dairy farmers in particular face challenges from prolonged low milk prices, increasing the threat that viable agricultural land may be converted to non-farm development.
Through this program, proceeds from the purchase of development rights on agricultural land will allow farmers to diversify their operations or to transition their farms to the next generation at more affordable costs, while ensuring the land will be used for agricultural purposes forever.
Locally, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy was awarded $932,389 to protect Glenvue Farms, a family-owned dairy farm located in the towns of Glen and Root.
Mark King, executive director of the Land Conservancy, on Friday explained that the grant funds will be used by the non-profit organization and accredited land trust to purchase the development rights to the 864-acre farm to ensure its preservation.
“Farms that are really committed to land and committed to farming sometimes look to this technique to infuse cash into the business and ensure the land remains available for farming in the long term,” said King.
King noted that securing development rights is often a lengthy legal process, indicating that receipt of the grant award will allow the Land Conservancy and Glenvue Farms to initiate that process and the negotiation of terms which could take a few years to complete.
“Now the heavy lifting starts,” said King.
If successful, King explained that a conservation easement would be placed on the farm, effectively extinguishing the development rights on the property to ensure it remains forever farmland. Glenvue Farm in return would receive the agreed upon price for selling the development rights to the farmland from the grant award. A portion of the award will be used to cover the Land Conservancy’s related legal and operational costs.
“It’s a super challenging business, this is one way to make farming work for people and it’s a really great thing that the state is investing in the agricultural sector of the economy, in particular these family farms, it’s very challenging so they need all the help they can get,” said King.
Sarah Walsh, conservation director at the Land Conservancy, said the grant award is expected to help ensure the family-owned dairy farm remains that way, aiding the transition from current farm owners Russ and Judy Kelly to their sons Justin and Ryan Kelly.
“The whole goal is long term viability for farms,” said Walsh. “The income from these projects is helping Glenvue Farms in particular to transition to the next generation.”
Farm owners can ultimately determine how to use the proceeds from the sale of property development rights. Walsh said funds are most often reinvested into the farm.
Considering the process typically takes years to complete, Walsh acknowledged that farmers’ plans for the proceeds from the purchase of development rights often change with conditions. Currently, Walsh said the Kelly family plans to use the funds from the sale of the development rights to purchase additional farmland and to invest in the long term viability of the farm.
“We as an organization are working more and more in Montgomery County because we see the need to protect these farms. There is wonderful, viable soil for growing food and supporting food products like dairy,” said Walsh. “Working farmers need help, this is one way of doing it. The Department of Agriculture and Markets answered the call when they saw dairy farmers in trouble and that’s great.”