Farmland protection a work in progress
Results from a recently completed survey have given the town committee charged with developing a farmland protection plan a lot of material to work with as a part of the ongoing effort to preserve local agriculture.
As part of its efforts to develop a farm and farmland protection plan, the Town of Granville Agricultural Plan Steering Committee recently completed a survey of farmers and farmland owners.
Using real property information, the Committee identified about 125 individuals that have active farm operations or that rent their land to other farmers within Granville. Just under 50 surveys were returned, about a 40 percent rate of participation which is considered an excellent return rate, organizers said.
Information learned from the survey will help the committee develop long-term goals and strategies for Granville, committee member and town board member Matt Rathbun said.
“Some of our goals are to educate residents about living in the area about farming, not everyone grew up in the area; implement a protection strategy for farm friendly land use; look for ways for agriculture economic development and maybe start a program to buy development rights,” Rathbun said.
The Ag Committee already developed a detailed profile and inventory of agriculture and farm resources.
Rathbun said the committee is working on defining critical farm locations in Granville with an eye towards steering development away from prime agricultural land and into areas more desirable for building.
“Hopefully the next step after this is a master plan and maybe in there would be some of the ways to protect the farmlands,” Rathbun said.
Rathbun said the single thing that jumped out at him in the results was the positive response to zoning.
“That is farm friendly,” Rathbun said with emphasis. “31 strongly supported zoning as long as it was friendly to agriculture; usually when you talk zoning people don’t want anything to do with it,” he said.
The farmland protection effort was not anti-growth, but was about managing that growth in the right direction, Rathbun said. “We need growth to survive,” he said.
The Plan is expected to be completed at the end of the year. Rathbun said he wanted to remind members of the public they are welcome at the Ag committee meetings which take place on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in the town hall.
Some of the highlights of the survey results include:
About ½ of participants were farm operators and ½ were farmland owners. The survey represents over 7,000 acres of land used for farming in Granville. The average number of years farms have been operating was 64, but ranged from 2 years to 211 years.
The 48 farms or farm operations that participated in the survey employ 58 full time, year-round people, 9 full time seasonal people, 82 part time year-round, and 28 part time seasonal workers.
The primary agricultural enterprises in Granville include (in order) hay, dairy, corn, and livestock operations. However horticulture, Christmas trees, vegetables, fruits, honey, beekeeping, and maple products were all listed as other types of principal farm operations.
Many farms have a secondary farm activity as part of their operation and these included agri-tourism, farm winery, food processing, food stands, and forestry.
Four farms sell ag products at local farmers markets. Two are organic, with three others in the process of becoming organic farms.
Participants were very supportive of a variety of farm enhancement and farmland protection strategies. Highly supported activities include (in order) tax incentives, zoning that is farm friendly, ag-economic development initiatives, programs that attract new farmers, the Washington County Ag and Farmland Protection Plan, and use of conservation easements.
Participants listed the challenges that make farming difficult in Granville. These challenges were (in order) property taxes, fuel, machine and production costs, land prices, environmental regulations, availability of farm labor, and loss of productive farmland.
Gross annual sales of the 48 farm or farmland participants bring 3.2 to almost 3.9 million dollars into the Town of Granville. Seven farms contributed over 75% of their net family income. However, 20 farms contributed less than 25% of the net family income.
Farmland owners and farm operators were mostly positive about continuing or expanding their farm operations in the next 10 years. Seven of the 48 indicated they would decrease agricultural sales or sell their farm/farmland for non-farm purposes over the next 10 years. Others have plans to expand or sell their land to another farmer.
Participants were very concerned or somewhat concerned about loss of farmland in Granville.
The majority have not had negative relationships with their non-farm neighbors in Town.
Over half (54%) of the participants were over 65 years in age.
There was not a significant difference in opinions between participants that were farm operators compared to those that own land and rent it to farmers.
Participants also offered a variety of thoughts on ways the Town, County and State could improve the sustainability and profitability of area farmers.