A professional planner has told the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board that the best way to preserve farms is to give them the opportunities to be profitable.
Andrew C. Reilly of Wendel Engineering, consultant to the Town of Hamburg, offered this view after the board visited five successful farms in preparation for the third eight-year renewal of the Eden Agricultural District.
The renewal process, a county and state function, will continue until next spring, said Chet Jandzinski, a member of the county's Environmental and Planning Department.
The state has taken several steps to create opportunities for farmers. The Agricultural Districts Law, with its lower assessments and protection from special districts is one step and the "right to farm" law, a second. The latest is legislation that will reduce school taxes on farmland beginning in 1997.
The purchase of farm-development rights is another way to preserve farms. The 1996 federal farm law authorizes $14.5 million to match local government purchase of farmland development rights.
"If the people of a town want to preserve farmland for farms, they will vote the money," one county official said. However, so far, only the Town of Pittsford in Monroe County has appropriated money to buy farmland-development rights, and will receive $100,000 from the federal government next year.
But this week, Erie County was notified that the state Department of Agriculture and has approved $49,000 in matching funds to plan a "Farms for the Future" protection policy.
County Executive Gorski praised the approval as an opportunity to assess agriculture, the county's largest industry, and balance farmland protection with land use for economic development."
"Farms for the Future" planning offers Erie County farmers and their 17 agricultural districts additional support at a critical time," said County Legislator Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore.
The board has been grappling with farm preservation for several years and already has received one grant to carry on its work. In a two-hour discussion in Eden, board members heard several views, including:
Large-lot (five-acre) zoning in suburban and rural towns does not protect farmers and their farms; their high costs drive away labor and, ultimately, farms themselves. Cluster zoning might be a partial solution.
The still largely open southern parts of the Town of Hamburg are under intense pressure for residential development, and for many, preserving open space is more important than saving farms.
Farmers want the right to sell off their land at high prices. But in the end, it's the "middle man," not the farmer, who reaps the great profits.
If farmers have the freedom to sell their land to high bidders, they also have a responsibility to future generations to save farming and open space.