Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the availability of $20.5 million to aid farmland protection efforts and help prevent viable agricultural land from being converted to non-agricultural use. Eligible entities, including municipalities, counties, soil and water conservation districts (SWCD) and not-for-profit conservation organizations/land trusts, can apply for individual grants under the Round 13 Farmland Protection Implementation Grants Request for Proposals (RFP).
"Protecting and maintaining farmland is vital to supporting the continued growth of New York's robust agricultural industries," Governor Cuomo said. "Farming supports jobs, businesses and economic activity in communities across the State, ultimately representing a cornerstone of our State's economy. This funding will help to make sure that farms are kept in production, given the tools to grow, and ensure support for farmers and their families."
Funding is available through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. When offered in the past, the grant has been highly competitive, with requests for State assistance often exceeding available funds by a factor of three.
The Department of Agriculture and Markets anticipates that an even greater number of proposals will be submitted this year because the grant has not been offered by New York State for several years. Additionally, revisions to State law have increased the State contribution to a maximum of 87.5 percent (up from 75 percent) and also expanded the number of entities now eligible to apply directly for these funds -- adding land trusts and SWCDs
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "We've taken a good hard look at this program -- what works well and how we could improve. We've listened to program participants and as a result we have taken a number of steps to streamline the process and ensure projects are completed more quickly and effectively. While this program is ongoing, we believe that New York agriculture will embrace the changes that we're putting forward."
In response to feedback from numerous stakeholders, such as local governments, the number of documents required to complete a project has been reduced and the overall process has been streamlined. In addition, the Department of Agriculture and Markets has instituted a number of contractual milestones to ensure that most projects will be on target for completion under a more practical timeframe. In previous contracts, the average length of time between grant application and landowner payment was far too lengthy to build predictability into the process.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Patty Ritchie said, "It goes without saying that quality, well-protected land is the basis for any successful family farm operation. I'm pleased that the newly enacted State Budget increases funding to $20 million for key farmland protection programs, which will ensure this limited resource remains available for the next generation of New York's farmers. This builds upon the work we have done recently--namely boosting funding for specific agriculture programs and launching an initiative to attract younger people to careers in farming--and will only help to further grow New York's biggest industry."
Assemblyman Bill Magee, chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, said, "Farmland protection is vital to our successful efforts to build a thriving agricultural industry in New York. To continue that success our dairy and yogurt, wine and beverage and fresh fruit and vegetable businesses depend on the availability of quality farmland for generations to come. The Farmland Protection funding not only benefits retiring and new farmers, but also New York consumers and neighbors who value local food and open space. I want to thank the Governor, the Speaker and my colleagues who supported this funding in budget."
Town Supervisor of Warwick in Orange County Michael Sweeton said, "We have the largest concentration of farms in Orange County and in turn we also have a very active farmland protection program. Coupled with resources from the state, the program has just been terrific for our area's agricultural sector. We have secured development rights on a number of working farms in our Town, which is just 50 miles north of New York City. We're pleased to learn of this additional funding and hopeful it will help us preserve more farmland in our area."
New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said, "We have seen consumer demand continually rising for the diverse products we grow and produce on our farms. It is imperative that we keep vital farmland in production to not only meet these needs but also for agriculture to remain a thriving sector of the state's rural economy. We appreciate the Governor's attention to farmland protection and the significant investment the state is making in the effort."
David Haight of American Farmland Trust said, "American Farmland Trust applauds Governor Cuomo for restarting New York's Farmland Protection Program. This program helps the next generation of New York farmers secure land and protect the farmland that is critical to local food security and continued growth of our state's farm and food economy."
This RFP will enable eligible entities to help landowners protect at-risk farmland through the use of permanent conservation easements or incentive payment agreements. Although the vast majority of the funding will go to permanent easements, the incentive payment agreements are being offered for the first time under this program, and will allow eligible entities to make multi-year commitments to landowners, at least five but no more than ten. The eligible entities would then work with the landowners to seek other funding arrangements to effectively create a perpetual conservation easement on these lands. Also known as "lease of development rights," this particular tool has been identified in municipal agricultural and farmland protection plans adopted across New York. Up to $2 million under the RFP will be available for this new type of project.
Application materials and important webinar information for the Round 13 Farmland Protection Implementation Grants RFP are available for download on the Department of Agriculture and Markets website at www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html. Application materials are also available by calling the Department directly at 1-800-554-4501.