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Cattaraugus County's Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board has asked for staff direction with a state grant application for funds to create a countywide farmland protection plan.

Up to $50,000 is available from the state Agriculture & Markets Department to pay for studies about local agribusiness and survey the county's population on the need and viability of farmland protection. The results will be used as a basis for a formal protection plan.

Depending upon the amount of money requested for the preliminary work, the county would be required to supply 20 percent of the cost, and a portion of that could come in the form of in-kind services, said Joan Petzen, chairwoman of the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board.

She led a presentation about the grant program Thursday night before a joint session of her board and the county Planning Board.

David Smith of Cornell University said it is a good sign the two groups are beginning to cooperate, noting that he has seen problems arise in counties where the two boards failed to find a common ground on farmland protection issues.

Some counties choose to protect farmland with a plan because they want to maintain the viability of the farming base by retaining the number of farms or by creating new agricultural opportunities, he said.

"Communities rely on farms as a business base," he said.

The group viewed a videotape documenting Washington County's experience in protection programs, involving agricultural employment, training, marketing and advertising, and linking a network of rural producers with urban consumers.

Kim Grace, a Steuben County extension agent, said his county's plan was drawn up with the help of a consultant.

"We found 82 percent of all Steuben County farm owners are over the age of 50. They are concerned with farm transfer issues," he said.

"It would not be a benefit to the next generation to transfer a nonprofitable farm."

The Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board held a business meeting after the presentation and authorized Petzen to work with county department planning staff.

The Planning Board met in a separate session but took no action.

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