Tom Crowell, Columbia Land Conservancy, 518 392 5252, Ext. 2049
Becky Thornton, Dutchess Land Conservancy, 845 677 3002
Jay Burgess, Scenic Hudson, 845 473 4440, Ext. 222
Farmers already have agreed to conserve their lands
HUDSON VALLEY (Dutchess and Columbia counties)—Three area land conservation groups today announced that they have secured a commitment of $2.65 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 by Scenic Hudson, the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC), the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC) and seven working family farms for the purchase of conservation easements (also called purchase of development rights) on the farms. 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. The Town of Red Hook hopes to provide funds, in keeping with the almost $2 million it already has committed to farmland protection.
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. “It is our goal through this program to ensure we assist landowners in protecting productive farmland and continued agricultural use in New York State,” said 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 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. In the 10 counties of the Hudson Valley, agriculture is an $810-million industry. 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.
“Hudson Valley farms remain vulnerable to many pressures at a time when valley and New York City residents consider it vitally important to secure a sustainable ‘foodshed,’ ” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. “That’s why protecting them is a priority of Scenic Hudson’s Saving the Land That Matters Most campaign. The NRCS funding is vital to success in this work, as are our partnerships with the Columbia Land Conservancy, the Dutchess Land Conservancy and generous landowners. Together we’re ensuring that highly productive lands will always be available to provide nutritious food while supporting local economies. We thank NRCS State Conservationist Don Pettit for his support and Congressman Chris Gibson and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for their roles as champions of farmland preservation through the Farm Bill.”
“We are working to ensure that agriculture remains a dynamic part of Columbia County’s landscape, identity and economy,” says CLC Executive Director Peter Paden. “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.”
“DLC is proud to support our farmers—who work so hard, day in and day out, to keep the land in production—by helping them ensure their priceless farmland is protected. They are the producers of our local food and stewards of our incredibly rich rural agricultural landscape and some of our most incredible scenic views,” said DLC President Becky Thornton. “We are also thrilled to be working hand in hand with our sister organizations: Scenic Hudson, which has shown such leadership in protecting critically important land up and down the Hudson Valley, and with Columbia Land Conservancy, whose programs are proactively helping to keep farmers on the land. Red Hook has also been an incredible partner and a leader in protecting its local farms, and we couldn’t achieve the protection of these farms without the USDA’s wonderful support.”
Speaking of the value of farmland preservation and this initiative, Town of Red Hook Supervisor Sue Crane said, “Red Hook’s long-standing commitment to preservation of our farms and rural landscapes has resulted in saving more than 5,000 acres. The community recognizes the importance of protecting our primary industry, farming. Simultaneously preserved are rural landscapes, wetlands, forests and diverse habitats, all of which inspire pride in the place we call home. We are privileged again to partner with the USDA, Dutchess Land Conservancy and Scenic Hudson by protecting for future generations two productive farms with irreplaceable prime soils.”
Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro commented, “Dutchess County applauds Scenic Hudson and its partners for securing this critical funding that will reinforce agriculture’s role as one of our most important industries. We strive to be the region’s champion for smart growth, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with communities to achieve development in our cities, villages and hamlets, while also doing our part to help them secure the important farmland that surrounds them.”
“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. Scenic Hudson and DLC in 2011 partnered on conservation easements on eight farms spanning 440 acres in Red Hook. These efforts to preserve agricultural lands support the Town of Red Hook’s Comprehensive Plan, Open Space Plan and Community Preservation Project Plan, all of which prioritize farmland preservation.
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.”
About Columbia Land Conservancy
Columbia Land Conservancy is the only conservation organization focused exclusively on conserving the rich and abundant farmland, forests and wildlife habitat of Columbia County, strengthening connections between people and the land. CLC owns or manages 10 Public Conservation Areas that constitute a public park system for the county. It has helped some 200 local families protect 21,980 acres of land. CLC also works to support and strengthen agriculture by matching landowners looking to have their land farmed with farmers seeking land and through a corps of experienced farmers who mentor landowners and new farmers. CLC also assists the county and its towns in a variety of land use planning efforts. As part of its 25th anniversary celebration, CLC has an expanded program schedule for the year that includes family programs, art activities, guest educators, contests, and self-guided activities. To learn more about CLC, go to www.clctrust.org.
About Dutchess Land Conservancy
Dutchess Land Conservancy is a private, nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to preserving the scenic, agricultural and environmental resources of Dutchess County, including open spaces, forests, water resources and wildlife habitats. DLC has a long history of success working with partners to preserve this area’s rural landscape. Since 1985 DLC has worked with local landowners to protect over 35,000 acres of critical resource rich land including approximately 21,500 acres of farmland. An accredited land trust, DLC has been successful in leveraging millions of private, town,, county, state and federal dollars to preserve farms. Over the past 10 years, DLC has on average completed 18 transactions annually protecting approximately 1,900 acres each year. DLC also works with municipalities to help acquire and protect important land for passive parks like the culturally and ecologically significant Dover Stone Church Preserve in Dover Plains; works to educate people about important environmental, conservation and stewardship matters; and provides professional land planning assistance to private landowners and towns to encourage environmentally sound planning. www.dutchessland.org
About Scenic Hudson
Scenic Hudson’s ongoing campaign to Save the Land That Matters is a multi-year, collaborative effort with fellow land trusts, governments, individuals and businesses to protect lands of the highest scenic, ecological and agricultural significance throughout the Hudson Valley. In addition to providing the cornerstone of a sustainable economy for the region, protected lands help attract new business. A recent study by the Trust for Public Land notes that executives looking to relocate or start up firms rank quality of life—including an abundance of parks and open space—higher than housing, cost of living and good schools. To date, the Saving the Land That Matters Most initiative has conserved more than 6,800 acres. www.scenichudson.org