Farmers in Schenectady County have until Tuesday, Dec. 30, to enroll their properties in the Schenectady Agricultural District.
County Legislator Judy D'Agostino, D-Rotterdam, said the process was a way to keep farming alive in the state.
"This is one way of keeping people involved. They can lease a farm, they can do different types of farming, and be part of an agricultural district if they meet the qualifications," said D'Agostino.
According to information from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the purpose of agricultural districting is to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production.
The program is based on a combination of landowner incentives and protections, designed to forestall the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses, as well as preserve working farms and open space. Benefits include preferential property tax treatment, protections against overly restrictive local laws, government-funded acquisition or construction projects, and protection against nuisance lawsuits related to farming practices.
"Schenectady County is committed to our agricultural industry. We have expanded our Farmers Market as a showcase for locally grown produce and sponsored Celebrating Schenectady's Bounty, a monthlong celebration of local food. We encourage local farmers and growers to consider enrolling in the Agricultural District during December as part of our ongoing agricultural efforts," said Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, chairwoman of Schenectady County Legislature, in a written statement.
State law requires the county to establish an annual 30-day review period to give landowners an opportunity to enroll in the Agricultural District each year. After the review, a public hearing will be held by the County Legislature, and then a final vote on whether to include additional parcels in the Agricultural District.
"The biggest benefit is probably some of the protections against nuisance lawsuits where, say, a neighbor ends up building a house near your farm in the agricultural district and they start complaining about noises and odors and such. If your farm is in the agricultural district as a viable farm operation, you get some protections from the state," said Steve Feeney, Schenectady County planner.