Bethlehem adopts farmland protection plan

Town-level plan first of its kind in Albany County

The Bethlehem Town Board voted unanimously to adopt an Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan on Tuesday, Nov. 24, that provides a wide range of recommendations on how the town can maintain its agricultural resources.

The plan is the first of its kind in Albany County, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension's Thomas Gallagher, who sat on the town's committee and was also a member of the Albany County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board that drafted the county's protection plan. That county plan, he said, is an excellent resource but doesn't provide much detail for local governments.

You can really zero in on issues in a single town that really impact agriculture, Gallagher said. "I think we've got a great plan here."

The primary threat to agricultural use in Bethlehem, according to the report, is population growth. According to the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, the town's population is projected to grow by 6,200 persons, or 29 percent, by the year 2030.

Also of concern are drainage issues that can be caused by new development and the problem of unauthorized use of farmlands by trespassers.

In these cases, the plan recommended that better communication be established between the Planning and Police departments and landowners, and that farmers and the public in general be educated about the town's farmland.

According to the study"drafted by a 10-member group that began meeting in early 2008"Bethlehem is home to 63 operating farms sitting on just over 5,900 acres of land. Corn, hay and pasturing constitute the majority of agricultural uses, which is a reflection of the relatively poor soil quality in most parts of town.

Many of the farms are smaller, or hobby farms, as well. A 2002 agriculture census found that 92 percent of Bethlehem's farms sold less than $50,000 in agricultural products, and 46 percent of agricultural landowners reported farming as their primary occupation.

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