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Jefferson County aims to update agricultural protection plan

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A lot has changed in the last 10 years in Jefferson County agriculture: population has increased in the county; wineries and vineyards have been introduced along with artisan cheeses; the Greek yogurt boom has changed the dynamic of the dairy business, and agritourism has expanded.

To better understand how these and other trends are affecting the county’s farmland, the Jefferson County Planning Department is asking the state Department of Agriculture and Markets for $37,500 to help it update its Agricultural and Farmland Protection plan, which was last done in 2002.

The agriculture industry in Jefferson County contributes more than $150 million to the local economy every year, according to the 2002 plan.

The plan serves as both a reference and a blueprint, according to Jefferson County agricultural coordinator Jay M. Matteson.

It helps the county understand the strengths and weaknesses of the agriculture industry, identify opportunities and mitigate threats.

The study, which will cost $75,000, will be paid for with a $37,500 grant from the state’s Agriculture and Markets Department, a 20 percent cash match of $7,500 from the county and $30,000 worth labor from the county’s planning staff, according to county Director of Planning Donald A. Canfield.

The application will be submitted either this week or early next week, according to senior planner Michael J. Bourcy.

There is no set timeline for when the county will hear back from the state, but assuming the proposal is approved, the whole process would take about a year to complete, Mr. Matteson said.

It will involve hiring a consultant through a competitive process and working with several private, public and nonprofit organizations, including the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, the Tug Hill Commission and others, to survey farmers and other residents about their perceptions of agriculture as well as to measure empirical data about how land is being used.

To proceed with the application process, the Planning Department had to secure a resolution from the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, which it did at the end of April.

County Legislator John D. Peck, R-Great Bend, is a dairy farmer.

“It’s a very important issue and it’s good to see the county taking it seriously,” he said.

Mr. Peck said the plan would help the county by continuing the farmland protection board, which gives farmers protection from residential pressures and legal disputes that can arise over manure spreading or tractor noise.

The plan also encourages the county to educate its residents about the importance of agriculture, something Mr. Peck said is increasingly important given the dwindling percentage of the population directly involved in agriculture.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, of the 313 million people who live in the United States, fewer than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation and about 2 percent actually live on farms.

According to the 2002 plan, there are 801,878 acres of land in Jefferson County. It said 36.30 percent of that land — 291,103 acres — is used for agricultural production.

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