LOWVILLE — Every year, for 30 days, landowners can submit their “predominantly viable agricultural land” to be included in certified agricultural districts for counties around the state. For Lewis County, that 30-day period begins Friday.

“The agricultural district is primarily a designation that protects the right to farm,” said county Planning Director Frank Pace, “In an agricultural community like this one, this is a support of existing conditions.”

The definition of “viable agricultural land” can include everything from traditional dairy and beef cattle, to honey bees, corn mazes and maple harvesting to vineyards and horse farms and beyond. It is also not necessary to use an entire parcel for a single purpose; however, depending on the activity, there can be a minimum acreage involved as described in the law.

The broad definition of agriculture has played well in areas like Lewis County, in which wind and solar projects have provided income sources for struggling farmers who aren’t required to pull out of the agriculture district even if they are leasing property to renewable energy companies.

“There hasn’t been a negative impact on the district from renewable energy projects because in a sense, it can be considered value-added agriculture,” Mr. Pace said.

He noted there are a number of ways in which the land used to host the wind or solar projects can still be used for agriculture, “depending on the configurations of the projects.”

The benefits to being a part of the agriculture district include getting help with “unreasonable” local regulation on farm practices, eminent domain issues and “modify the right to advance public funds to construct facilities that encourage development of farmland,” according to a county planning department news release.

Other benefits can include special assessments, levies, and limiting rates and fees for improvement projects like water, sewer, or non-farm drainage.

While landowners have an opportunity to apply for inclusion in the district every year, property can only be removed during the review period that takes place every eight years.

The last agricultural district review for Lewis County was completed in 2017, and approved by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets in early 2018, Mr. Pace said, making the next review in 2026.

In that review, two landowners joined the district and two others who inherited agricultural land took it out due to concern that being in the district would scare away potential buyers interested in using the property for something other than agriculture.

“It winds up being a personal decision from a farmer’s perspective, or a business decision,” Mr. Pace said.

The news release said being in a NYS Certified Agricultural District is not the same as having an agricultural tax assessment or being in an agricultural zoning district.

To apply for inclusion in the district, landowners should complete the worksheet that can be found online at http://wdt.me/XkBJmK or by contacting Mr. Pace at 315-376-5423 or by e-mail at frankpace@lewiscounty.ny.gov.

Requests must be submitted no later than 4:30 p.m. Dec. 16 to the Planning Department, 7660 N. State St. Room 324, Lowville N.Y. 13367.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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