Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone this week announced the unanimous legislative approval of the Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, which was last updated in April 1996. The plan aims to support adaptable public policy to protect, encourage and sustain agriculture as an industry for future generations in Suffolk County.
“Agriculture in Suffolk County has undergone significant changes over the past 20 years and this updated plan reflects the current state of the industry’s successes and challenges,” Bellone said. “The adoption of this plan will help ensure that the future of farming in Suffolk is resilient and a productive part of our economy, environment, quality of life, and culture.”
Legislator Al Krupski added, “Suffolk County has been leader in farmland preservation since 1974, and the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan will help us to continue to preserve our deep, fertile soils and build on the county’s past success. I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to see this plan completed.”
The Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan includes a brief historical look at agriculture in Suffolk County; an inventory of current resources and efforts to protect farmland in the county; a review of each local municipality’s policies, programs, plans and regulations related to agriculture; and challenges and suggested courses of action to address issues facing the agricultural industry.
Research for the Plan was funded by a $50,000 Farmland Protection Planning Grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, a $10,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation and an in-kind match from Suffolk County.
“The Peconic Land Trust is very pleased to have assisted Suffolk County in the update of its Farmland Protection Plan, thanks to a grant received from the Long Island Community Foundation,” said John v.H. Halsey, the president of the Peconic Land Trust, a nonprofit that advocates preserving Long Island open space and agricultural land. “This plan reinforces the county’s history at the forefront of farmland conservation, dating back to the 1970s and the introduction of the first purchase of development rights program in the nation. The plan also includes strategies to address the challenges we face in protecting not only farmland as a resource, but also the business of farming as an important part of our economy. We look forward to working with the County and our partners to ensure that agriculture continues to be viable and sustainable for generations to come.”
The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning conducted multiple focus groups throughout the county and surveyed local farmers in 2013 to provide public input for the updated plan.
The department also conducted an aerial analysis of the county’s approximately 39,000 acres of farmland in Suffolk County, nearly 20,000 acres of which are already protected by municipal governments and nonprofit organizations, to assess the status of agricultural lands and create a master list of protected and unprotected farmland.
The plan offers suggested courses of action to help preserve agriculture as an industry in Suffolk County; to continue to work to purchase development rights to farms that are not yet protected; to incentivize farmers to implement best management practices to increase crop production, reduce costs and protect surface and ground waters; to attract new farmers; and to expand the diversification of crops and agricultural business models in Suffolk County.
The plan includes several important additions to its 1996 predecessor, including an increased focus on aquaculture, which has grown in importance within the last decade. Suffolk County ranks first in the state for market value of aquaculture products sold according to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture. Increases in aquaculture production can be attributed to the Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay, which was adopted by the county in 2009 to lease publicly owned underwater lands to private commercial shell-fishing operations.