Bethlehem presents agricultural and farmland protection plan

According to the draft report, Bethlehem's agriculture and farming industry includes 63 operating farms with just over 5,900 acres of land, out of which 33 are rented farms with about 2,800 acres of land. The area produces mostly corn, hay, and contains mainly pastureland and has 4,000 acres that receive an agricultural assessment from Bethlehem.

Sixty-eight percent of all agriculture and farmland is located in the Ravena-Coeymans School District.

The report also reveals that 77 percent of all Bethlehem agriculture and farmland is located in three zoning districts " 23 percent in Residential A, 30 percent in Rural and 24 percent is in Rural Light Industrial.

Leslie said the town has conducted landowner interviews with 11 farmers and owners of farmland and that the draft reports several recurring themes from the interviews.

The various themes listed in the draft report include education, poor soils, an increasing suburban nature and a lack of respect among farmers, non-farmers and Town Hall, as well as questions about the future of farming in Bethlehem.

The draft also cites a 2002 agricultural census that reports 92 percent of the town's farms sold less than $50,000 in agricultural products. It continues, stating that 25 percent of farms are between 1 and 49 acres and 75 percent are between 50 and 999 acres.

However, only 46 percent of those interviewed in the report claim farming as "their primary occupation."

The report being presented to residents lays out five main goals: foster communication between farmers and the non-farming community to encourage; encourage flexible town policies and regulations to be supportive of agriculture; assist and support in resolving adverse farming issues causing adverse impacts on agriculture and farmland; support economic opportunities for the agricultural industry; and to provide incentives for agricultural landowners to continue agricultural activities.

The last goal will consist of finding complementary land uses for farmers, according to Leslie.

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