Blog

Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program Saved for Now

News
Conservation News
April 18, 2018

By Yvette DeBow-Salsedo

The landmark program—which has successfully saved more than 10,000 acres of farmland from residential development in the last 40 years—has been secured for now.

After 18 months in limbo, the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program is back in business.  This innovative program – the first of its kind in the nation to protect working farms – had been in jeopardy since September 2016.  That month, a decision by New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan declared that—going forward—farmers could not have agricultural structures or improvements on their protected land necessary to farm. This was a shock to many farmers who had retained the right to make these improvements.

Fortunately, on March 14, the New York State Appellate Division rejected the State Supreme Court decision.  That means that once again, farmers are permitted to build these structures and make improvements on their protected land.  But we are not completely out of the woods yet because this decision may be appealed to the Court of Appeals.  We remain vigilant and ready to act if necessary.

block.image[0].title

photo by Kathryn Szoka

In the 1970s, agriculture on Long Island was under tremendous pressure. Land values and development had rapidly increased—as they continue to do today. Farms that had been handed down generation after generation were disappearing and being sold to pay federal estate taxes. Farmers needed a way to protect their land, work, and way of life.

That was why, in 1974, Suffolk County initiated the country’s first farmland preservation program. It allowed the County to purchase development rights and thus to preserve invaluable agricultural soils, ensuring the future of farming so important to our local economy. Through the program, farmers continued to own their land but relinquished the right to develop it into residential subdivisions—the ultimate win-win solution. A tremendous success, it has been replicated throughout New York State and the country.

block.image[0].title

Had the lower court decision been upheld, farmland owners would have lost the right to have barns, fences, and other improvements necessary to farm on protected farmland. Without the ability to make improvements to grow and protect their crops, many farmers could have suffered severe financial losses. Others could have sued the County on a breach of contract, which could invalidate their initial sale of development rights thereby exposing once-protected farmland to development. The case threatened the future of 35,000 acres of farmland on Long Island alone.

Thankfully, that did not happen. Clearer heads prevailed for now. 

It is through your support that the Trust is able to advocate for conservation in our community— including agriculture. Keeping landmark programs such as the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program working for our future is a critical component of our work.  Thank you for making it possible!

block.image[0].title

For more information on our public policy work, please contact Yvette DeBow Salsedo at ydebow@peconiclandtrust.org; 631.283.3195.