Hauppauge, NY: Members of the Suffolk County Legislature joined the Long Island Farm Bureau (LIFB), farmers and advocates of the agricultural community in support of a Home Rule message which was passed earlier today by Suffolk lawmakers. The Home Rule message requests the State of New York enact legislation that would protect landowners’ ability to continue farm operations, as defined by the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law, when the development rights are extinguished on their land.
Specifically, the Home Rule message supports pending legislation in the New York State Senate (S.6039) and Assembly (A.7703) sponsored by Senator Kenneth LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele respectively. The legislation is a response to last year’s ruling by a State Supreme Court Judge which declared null and void two amendments to the Suffolk County Code which allowed Suffolk County, through the Farmland Committee, to grant farmers hardship exemptions for structures like deer fencing and temporary hoop houses.
According to County Executive Steve Bellone, “This home rule message will send a powerful signal to Albany that we stand behind our local farming community. Suffolk County is the most diverse agricultural County in New York State on the strength of its farmland preservation program, which recognizes that both traditional and new methods of farming require structures like barns, fencing, and farmstands. The state legislation introduced by Assemblyman Thiele and Senator LaValle will restore credibility and certainty to a farmland preservation program that has served as a national model for forty years. It will restore credibility to the program and, most importantly, help prevent the future commercial and residential development of existing agricultural lands.”
“Farms in Suffolk County generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and create thousands of jobs. As a mom, I value the ability to feed our kids and our families fresh local foods,” said Legislator Bridget Fleming. “We can only have access to that food, if our farmers can operate reasonably. As an environmentalist on a South Fork Town Board, I have witnessed how the enormous financial pressure toward overdevelopment marches inexorably on. And I have seen that our working farms play a critical role in keeping over development at bay. Preservation programs have allowed agriculture to survive and have prevented sprawl. So our program must support working farms, as practices evolve in a rapidly changing world.
This state legislation will restore a stable and predictable program. I strongly support the legislation because without it, Suffolk County’s farmland preservation efforts are in jeopardy.”
The ruling left the farming community in a state of limbo as landowners did not know what they were or weren’t allowed to do on their preserved land. This uncertainty caused landowners to reconsider entering into Suffolk County’s long established and historically successful Farmland Protection Program. The proposed state legislation seeks to remedy the confusion caused by the ruling and to ease concerns in the agricultural community, thus encouraging participation of landowners in the program.
“This year marks the 40th anniversary of Suffolk County’s farmland preservation program. The program over the years has preserved over 10,000 acres of farmland and has generated a number of town programs that have preserved an additional 10,000 acres,” said Robert Carpenter, Administrative Director of LIFB. “With the spread of suburbanization rapidly encroaching on our East End Towns, it is vital we continue to preserve this ever dwindling resource before it is too late and lost forever. This home rule message supports the state legislation to correct flaws in the Supreme Court’s recent decision and will restore confidence in the program so that farmers can utilize the necessary infrastructure and farm buildings on preserved lands. This will enable our farmers to continue to grow the food and fiber our residents enjoy. We would like to thank County Executive Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County Legislature and County Staff for all their efforts in support of the farm community.”
According to Legislator Al Krupski, himself a fourth generation farmer, “It is critical the functionality and the efficacy of the county’s Farmland Preservation Program be restored, not just for farmers but for everyone. Farmers must have the ability to adapt to changes in the agricultural industry, sometimes which are fairly rapid. If they don’t have this needed flexibility, they will not participate in the program and the consequences will be dire; instead of growing food and other agricultural products, we will be growing more houses which will mean more traffic, the need for more services and higher taxes.”