Lewis County to update ag plan

JULIE ABBASS/WATERTOWN DAILY TIMESAgriculture in Lewis County has been rife with challenges, making the timing of the Agricultural Protection Plan being updated with the help of a $50,000 state grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets seem crucial to Lewis County Senior Planner Casandra K. Buell.

LOWVILLE — For the first time since 2004, Lewis County will have an updated Agricultural Protection Plan focused on the continued conservation and progression of the local farming industry.

Casandra K. Buell, county senior planner, said she “stumbled on” the opportunity for state funding to update the plan while going through her predecessor’s work after a discussion in a planning department meeting.

“I try to look at the important things,” Mrs. Buell said, “And make sure we aren’t missing opportunities.”

She said the state would normally like plans updated every 10 years so if they had waited much longer, the $50,000 grant may not have been available.

The county Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, led by Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director Michelle E. Ledoux, began work in January to create an Advisory Committee for plan development.

The committee will be composed of representatives from the county Board of Legislators and departments including Recreation, Forestry and Parks, Real Property, Planning and Economic Development/IDA; the Soil and Conservation District; Cornell Cooperative Extension; Cornell University’s PRO DAIRY; Farm Credit East; the Farm Bureau; Lowville Producers Dairy Cooperative; Tug Hill Land Trust; and the Tug Hill Commission.

Along with a consultant who will lead the process, do the bulk of data research and create the final plan, the committee will reach out to the community to inform the plan’s goals and outcomes.

According to the “scope of work” included in the grant application, the updated plan will “create a road-map for future projects, programs and policies benefitting the agricultural economy,” protect and maintain the agricultural land base, and find a way to prevent the devaluation of farms.

The plan will also address the future of farming in the county, from value-added agricultural products to “agro-tourism” and other niche farming practices that may help struggling farmers find a way forward while also enticing the “next generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs.”

To accomplish those goals, the plan will attempt to help farms increase their profitability and find financial support for county-wide initiatives that will make farming more viable and successful as a continuing core industry in the county.

“We invite input on this from residents in the county so we can make something relevant and unique to the county,” Mrs. Ledoux said.

Outreach sessions, personal interviews and online surveys will be conducted to encourage public participation, including farmers, agribusinesses, corporations and community members, creating a broad scope of the challenges, weaknesses and opportunities the agricultural sector faces as well as shared visions of farming’s future.

Formal advertising and traditional media outlets will be used to engage as many people as possible, the scope of work document said, while also harnessing social media.

The grant application was approved by the Board of Legislators at its July 2 regular meeting and has been submitted to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets for review.

The total project cost is $100,000. The grant’s $50,000, will be matched by the county with $40,000 of in-kind services and $10,000 cash coming from the planning department’s budget for community development funds, Mrs. Buell said.

The plan is expected to be completed by spring 2021, based on the release of the grant funds in time for work to begin by fall of this year.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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