By Jon Close
For The Sunday Gazette
It is a devastating truth that farming in this area has been on the decline for some time.
In 1978, there were 121 dairy farms in Fulton County. Today, there are less than a dozen.
Our family has been producing milk commercially for more than a century, and our family’s presence on the “Close Brothers farm” predates the Great Sacandaga Reservoir by 63 years.
We have survived a lot over the years: the Great Depression, two world wars, losing half of our farm to the creation of the Great Sacandaga Reservoir, the fire loss of our first barn, a barn collapse, two silo fires and much more.
But we will not survive much longer.
We wake up every morning with the uncertainty of how long we can keep going.
Our story is not unique. The American farmer has been beaten, neglected and left to die.
No decision is made on the farm without deep and careful consideration for all who might be impacted.
THE DECISION TO LEASE
With that in our minds, we have decided to lease a portion of our farm to Boralex, Inc. — a renewable energy company that will install a 40-megawatt, bulk power solar facility.
Given the current socioeconomic conditions we face, we believe this is the best-case scenario for the future of our farm and our hometown.
In the past 60 years our gross revenue has barely budged. But our costs have doubled, tripled or more. It is becoming increasingly difficult to operate a business and support ourselves and our family on a negative cash flow.
Economic forces are leaving farms like ours with two choices: scale up or shut down.
Given our financial position and limited availability of land and labor, scaling up is not practical.
Currently, our milk price is less than the cost to produce, so a net loss is built into the paradigm. No matter how you scale a loss, it cannot become profitable.
Thankfully, there is a third option: solar.
THE SOLAR OPTION
Farmers across this country are leasing land to solar companies because it is the only viable way they can keep their land and still farm.
Six generations of our family have lived, worked and died on this land. It is more than just a farm — it is our home, our beating heart and a living piece of our family history. We take this very seriously. Solar is our way forward.
The Close family and Boralex are committed to the concerns of the community, and have made great considerations to all associated.
The greatest concern has been the visual effect on the pristine beauty of the Adirondack Park.
We understood from the beginning that this would be the most controversial aspect of the project and have done our due diligence to address it.
The topography and natural features of the land have been incorporated so as to conceal this project from the public eye.
However, due to an addendum that had to be made to protect a wetland, a small corner of the project on the top of our hill may come into sight of the lake.
Efforts will be taken to minimize the visual impact. There is currently a hedgerow blocking most of this corner and we believe it can easily be fortified with sumac or evergreens.
RETAINING OTHER USES
Another concern is the state snowmobile trail that runs through our farm, which grants the only legal access to the lake from Mayfield.
We have been working with the Southern Adirondack Snowmobile Association to ensure that there will be a trail allowing lake access. Once the locations of the arrays are finalized, a trail will be planned and cut.
For decades, Mayfield’s athletic teams have used our fields to train their athletes. They will continue to be granted this courtesy.
Furthermore, Boralex will be collaborating with the school district to provide further education and employment opportunities for the children of Mayfield.
As far as farm operations go, we have begun raising a beef herd and growing produce, with plans to expand both of those ventures.
We will still have more than 300 acres of cropland that will be outside the project. Boralex is committed to dual use of the land, and we are exploring different ways to continue to farm the land we have leased to them. Options include sheep grazing; and a promising pilot program to grow crops and establish a bee colony sanctuary inside the fence, among the solar arrays.
We understand and appreciate the call to “stop solar and save the farms,” but these voices fail to see the entire picture.
In reality, solar development is what is saving our farm.
This project will provide significant PILOT payments to Fulton County, the Mayfield Central School District and the town of Mayfield.
If instead we sold our farm for development, there would be miles of new roads, new intersections, increased and nonstop traffic and significant maintenance costs to the town. Furthermore, the land would be gone forever — and another farm would be lost.
We are in dire times.
The world is changing and we must adapt to survive. Stand with us and save the farms.
Jon Close is owner of the Close Family Farm.
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