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Ag exemption for reclamation of St. Lawrence County land is considered

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators is considering an agricultural exemption that would reward those who reclaim tillable land from unproductivity.

The recommendation for the exemption grew out of discussions of the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board and Soil & Water Conservation District on ways to encourage farmers, said Robert G. Andrews, chairman of the protection board.

“We wanted to create an incentive,” he said. “We’re just trying to emphasize the need to put these acres back in production.”

Every acre wrested back from scrubby growth is another that can be used for forage and food production, Mr. Andrews said. But clearing trees, hauling rocks and building drainage ditches is expensive.

“When you do that, you’re making a sizeable investment,” he said. “Why not give us a little break when we bring this land back into production?”

County Real Property Director Darren W. Colton knew of several properties, including one between Russell and Hermon that had grown up to white birch, that have been returned to productivity.

“There are others,” he said. “Why? Because there’s no more tillable land. They’re expanding tillable land and the big farms need it for their feed.”

Legislators recently brought up the idea of the exemption but tabled discussion of it pending more detail. Mr. Andrews has been invited to the board’s Operations Committee meeting March 10.

Such an exemption, which would require state legislation, does not exist anywhere in the state, Mr. Colton said.

There are many questions about how an exemption would work, including how much it would be and how long it would last.

Farmers are already eligible for exemption from sales tax and an agricultural exemption for certain buildings. Agricultural exemptions for land are based on soil type but the rates are higher than what many county farmers think they should be, Mr. Andrews said.

Only 50 acres of woodland is eligible for an agricultural exemption because wood is not considered an agricultural commodity, Mr. Colton said.

An ag exemption is granted after land is already in production, while the one under consideration would be for property as it is being reclaimed.

“It’s about the actual conversion while it’s being done,” Mr. Colton said.

Matilda M. Larson, a county planner, said she would meet with Mr. Colton to understand what a reclamation exemption might look like if it were available.

“I think I have to start from scratch,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Mr. Andrews said he would welcome other ideas, including a payment-in-lieu-of-tax program for improving land rather than an exemption.

“If I have an opportunity to talk about improving agriculture in St. Lawrence County, I’m successful,” he said.

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