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County consolidates ag districts into 1

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 February 2016 at 12:00 am

Review, done once every 8 years, has begun

File photos by Tom Rivers – A field of sunflowers is pictured in August 2014 along Route 237, north of the Village of Holley.

ALBION – Orleans County has consolidated its agricultural districts into one county-wide district, a change that should make it easier for farmers for the reviews every eight years.

Many of the farms work land that crosses town boundaries. Some of the ag districts had different review cycles and farmers could inadvertently be left out of an ag district if they didn’t send in paperwork.

The county used to have 10 ag districts and shrunk it to three, with a northern district in the towns of Yates, Carlton and Kendall; a middle district with Ridgeway, Gaines, Albion and Murray; and a southern district with the towns of Shelby, Barre and Clarendon.

Now all of the towns are in one consolidated district. The County Legislature approved the change last week, saying it will be simpler and more convenient for farmers, and also be more efficient for the County Planning Department, which administers the ag district.

The Planning Department has sent 907 letters to property owners in the district, requesting they send back confirmation letters if they want to stay in the district.

The ag district will next be up for review in 8 years, but property owners can be added to the district with annual enrollments every June. However, landowners can only be removed from the district every 8 years.

“This will simplify things and be a better way to do it,” said Jim Bensley, the county’s Planning Department director. “It will be easier for the farmers who operate in multiple towns.”

Landowners must affirm in writing their intent to be included in the district. The county wants the letters returned by Feb. 26.

A field is pictured across from the Millville Cemetery on East Shelby Road in this photo from May 2014.

Agricultural Districts are established by New York State Agriculture and Markets Law to provide for the protection of agricultural lands. Farmers with land in an ag district are protected from lawsuits from neighbors who complain about normal farm practices, such as odors, dirt on roads, and working in fields early in the morning or late at night.

Agriculture is the dominant industry in Orleans County. The latest Agriculture Census from 2012 showed total revenue from Orleans County farms at $150.3 million for sales of fruit, vegetables, milk, livestock and other farm products. That was a 48.8 percent jump from the $101.0 million recorded in 2007, according to the Agricultural Census, which is done every five years.

Agricultural districts do not have to be made up completely of farmland. However, they must contain a predominance of viable farmland, according to the County Planning Department.

For more information about Agricultural Districts or the ongoing review and consolidation process, contact Sarah Gatti, planner at the Orleans County Department of Planning, at 585-589-3187.