by Barbara Moore

The first of four planned “Ask the Expert Workshops” for Farmland seekers and owners was held on Oct. 15, in five locations across New York State. Jennifer Fimbel, the Agricultural Navigator from Dutchess County led the workshop for Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). Kimble was in the Capitol Area CCE Office and the webinar was broadcast to Broome, Erie, Essex and Madison/Oneida Counties. With 34 years of experience behind her, Fimbel was able to address the many issues encountered when one is looking for farmland to lease or is looking for someone interested in leasing land that they own.

Though there are many questions to be answered and things to be considered when leasing or looking to lease, Fimbel not only addressed many of the questions and considerations she provided many sources for further information. Starting with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the most interest,” she defined agriculture and gave the Federal Government and New York State’s definition of a farm as “any agricultural operation that produces or sells over $1,000 worth of product.”

Fimbel continued with a list of important things to consider when preparing to lease or sell agricultural properties and resources to help research them, including:

  • Soils – Soils map completed by the County Soil and Water district is recommended or a Web Soil Survey can be obtained at: . These maps are particularly important in New York State where we have many different soils throughout the State.
  • Zoning – Presence of an ag district, size and scale of property and differences in towns and villages must be examined.
  • Ag District – “New York’s Agricultural District Law was enacted in1971 to help keep farmland in agricultural production. A county legislative body must approve and forward the petition to the Commissioner of Agriculture for formal review and designation. As of December 2008, the State had 251 agricultural districts that represent about 8.5 million acres of land.”
  • Ag value assessment – Assessment is based on a minimum of seven acres in production and grossing an average of $10,000 in sales of agricultural products for two years or less than seven acres grossing an average of $50,000 for two years.
  • Infrastructures, location and acreage – These factors are important to consider when choosing a property. Consideration might include expansion potential, possible markets, and the availability as well as the condition of existing infrastructure.
  • Soil testing – Soil testing is crucial as it helps determine both production and production cost.
  • Cost sharing – Landowners may willingly cost share when the costs go toward improving the value of their property.
  • Consulting with the assessor – Regardless of ownership one will benefit from knowing the value of having a farm on the property.
  • Hobby and “farmettes” – These small farming ventures often reawaken zoning issues as new owners may not be grandfathered in and zoning can be changed to make it more difficult to maintain the property as farmland. Variances can sometimes be granted for youth projects such as FFA or 4-H. A rule of thumb for determining acreage required for livestock is 500 pounds of livestock per acre.

Fimbel completed her session after showing maps of Agricultural Districts and Farmland Protection Planning Grant Program, discussing the many tax credits and exemptions that might be available and encouraging all attendees to contact their County or Area CCE Offices if they had further questions.

The Erie County CCE Agricultural Educators Sharon Bachman and Kathleen McCormick then invited the attendees in the East Aurora CCE Office to continue their questions. They provided the six people attending with handouts for the meeting and gathered the evaluation surveys while distributing business cards so that people attending had easy access when they seek assistance.

Call your local CCE Office to see if the Ask the Experts Workshops are available near you.