Agricultural & Farmland Protection Plan
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Eden Supervisor Glenn Nellis, members of the Erie County Farm Bureau, members of the Erie County Agricultural Farmland Protection Board, and concerned citizens in announcing the completion of the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan (“the Plan”). The comprehensive Plan, designed to guide the County’s involvement in agriculture over the next ten years, is the result of a 20-month process involving farmers, agribusiness owners, and economic development staff around Erie County.
“Erie County’s agricultural tradition is strong and essential to our prosperity. With the implementation of this Plan, we can now seize new opportunities to strengthen markets and improve land use planning,” said Poloncarz. “I want to thank the members of the Department of Environment and Planning, the Farm Bureaus, the AFPB, and especially Diane Held from the American Farmland Trust, as well as the many concerned farmers who participated in putting this framework together. The strategies and actions formed from your input will help to stimulate economic development in the agricultural sector by improving farm profitability, addressing challenges in a comprehensive, county-wide way, and protecting vital farmland for future generations.”
“This plan is a major step forward for Erie County agriculture,” said Brett Kreher, Chairman of the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board. “It provides a roadmap to insure the viability of agriculture well into the 21st century.”
Some of the issues identified in the Plan include: farmer access to local markets, a burdensome regulatory environment, educating the public about the value of agriculture, access to financial assistance, and coping with an aging workforce. Participants also identified a need for a WNY regional brand for marketing local foods, strengthening linkages between farmers and consumers, and promotion of careers in agriculture.
The full Plan can be viewed at www.erie.gov/agriculture/plan
Erie County has lost substantial amounts of farmland since the early 1970’s, when the County population peaked. Since that time, sprawling development has pushed past the inner-ring suburbs of Buffalo and well into the second-ring suburbs. Between 2002 and 2007, development of farmlands resulted in the number of farms decreasing by 6% while acreage in farms decreased by 8%.
Today, over 3,000 acres of farmland in the County is permanently protected with agricultural conservation easements which allow farming but limit non-agricultural development on the land. Additionally, Erie County has the 10th-highest number of acres in state-certified, county-approved agricultural districts among the state’s 50 counties, which is significant for an “urban” county. Also, 23 of the 25 towns in the county have adopted Right to Farm Laws.
The Plan outlines two strategies with specific goals and actions for implementation to address agriculture’s challenges and opportunities, as identified through the public input process:
· Strategy I focuses on keeping land in agricultural production by protecting farmland, helping a new generation to farm, and improving the viability of all farms in the County. Goals for this strategy include retention of farms and farm acreage, with support actions designed to develop programs to build an educated, trained workforce for local farms and urban agriculture, as well as the establishment of new agricultural programs (such as agritourism and the establishment of a County Agribusiness Park) to improve the sustainability of farms.
· Strategy II focuses on informing the public, local leaders, and elected officials about the benefits that agriculture provides while supporting policy and legislative changes that will improve farm viability. Goals for this strategy include the calculation of a complete economic analysis of agriculture and its multiplier effects to educate local leaders, support of policies that will help farms supply affordable local food to county residents, and establishment of an annual county-wide agricultural event, among others.
Erie County’s 14 agricultural districts cover 1,215 farms, with 149,356 acres being actively farmed (as reported by the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture), representing 39% of the County’s land area. In addition to mapping each district, the Plan also identifies active agricultural land within agricultural parcels (some land may be woodland and is not tilled); identifies parcels with the greatest amount of high-quality soils; identifies and values parcels with particular natural resource features (wetlands, streams, or proximity to lakes); identifies agricultural parcels in relation to regional growth policy areas from the Erie Niagara Framework for Regional Growth; and also identifies areas in the County that have groupings of large farmland parcels with excellent soils. These clustered areas do not take into consideration development pressure, but do depict places where non-farm development should not occur. These areas have the best soil, largest parcels, and highest quantity of adjacent farmland.
For more information:
On the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, visit http://www2.erie.gov/environment/
On the Erie County Farm Bureau, visit http://ecfarm.com/
On the New York State Farm Bureau, visit http://www.nyfb.org/