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Seneca County Agricultural and Farmland Enhancement Plan

03/19/2021 4:59 PM | Kaitlin Fello

Seneca County Agricultural & Farmland Enhancement Plan

By Val Sewell and Erin Peruzzini (Seneca County SWCD)

Seneca County received a grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag & Markets) to update its Agricultural and Farmland Enhancement Plan with the Seneca County Agriculture Enhancement Board (AEB) serving as the Steering Committee for the effort.  The AEB is being supported by the County’s Department of Planning and Economic Development, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Soil and Water Conservation District. The Ag Enhancement Plan will be used as a roadmap to detail the efforts needed to enhance agriculture, identify who should be involved and describe how to implement such efforts.

As stipulated in the Ag & Markets grant, Seneca County procured a consultant with knowledge of rural/farmland protection planning issues to help coordinate the development of the plan with the AEB. The consultant, selected through a Request for Proposals and rigorous interview process, is Community Planning and Environmental Associates (CP & EA). This consultant has over 26 years of experience working with communities in New York State and has assisted ten other counties in New York to develop their Ag Enhancement Plans. Its role is to facilitate the process, provide technical expertise in areas of community input, data collection, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and development of the full plan. CP & EA will also draft a vision and goals and recommend actions for consideration by the AEB.

Agricultural Survey

In the fall of 2020, CP & EA, under the auspices of Seneca County, conducted an online agricultural survey to gather information to better understand where and what type of farming is being done in the county, and to learn more about the interests and perspectives of the general public, farmers and farmland owners, and businesses that support farmers. The survey, which closed in early December 2020, received responses from 104 members of the general public, 78 farmers, 31 farmland owners who rent to farmers, and 15 agri-businesses.

Highlights from general public respondents to the survey include:

  • Ag is recognized as having a very important role in the county; 80% said it is very important to have active farms
  • Eighty percent buy local farm products – 74% of them at local farms, or local retail markets
  • They want to see more activities/events to promote local ag products, new development patterns to limit non-farm uses in farming areas, and assistance with grants for farmers.

Highlights from farmers include:

Issues of concern

  •    Property taxes/land prices
  •    Loss of small and medium-sized farms
  •    Loss of young people
  •   Costs and profitability of farms
Opportunities for ag enhancement included:
  • Promote farm-friendly local land use laws at town level (56%)
  • Enhance marketing and promotion of local ag products (56%)
  • Develop programs to support small, niche, specialty crops (47%)
Most farmers plan on staying the same or expanding/diversifying; few plan on leaving farming.

Farmland owner issues and opportunities for enhancement include:

Important issues
  • Low profitability of farms
  • Agricultural runoff
  • Changing weather patterns
  • Lack of workforce and new generation of farmers
Opportunities for ag enhancement include:
  • Enhancing marketing and promotion of local ag products
  • Attracting farmers and ag-businesses to the County

Agri-business issues and enhancement highlights include:

Important issues
  • Access to skilled labor
  • High cost of doing business in NY/high taxes
  • Regulations
Opportunities for ag enhancement
  • Develop programs to support small, niche, and specialty crop farms
  • Promote ag tourism
  • Protect farmland via conservation easements
  • Improve cell service

In addition to summarizing the results from the online survey, CP & EA conducted 11 interviews to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOTs) to Seneca County’s agricultural community and farmlands.

Strengths include:

  • Climate, soils, environment
  • Good ag infrastructure & services
  • Wine trails/vineyards

Weaknesses are:

  • Taxes
  • Rising land prices
  • Water quality issues

Opportunities include:

  • Grow ag tourism
  • More education of public about farming
  • Engage farmers in water quality concerns and foster use of best management practices for controlling water pollution

Threats include:

  • Pressure from non-farm uses and people & development/population growth
  • Climate change
  • Lack of young people in farming/nobody to pass farm onto
  • Lake quality

From the perspective of Seneca Pure Waters, it is heartening to see that water quality concerns are frequently identified as important by those canvassed in the survey and interviewed.  Seneca County has approximately 26 miles of shoreline along Seneca Lake and approximately 107 square miles of Seneca Lake watershed area that can benefit from thoughtful farmland conservation and controlled development.  The Ag Enhancement Plan will likely include recommendations related to long-terms preservation of land (easements for example), soil management for farming, environmental health, climate resiliency, and use of best management practices for controlling water pollution.

Next Steps

The consultant will be working to pull together a draft Ag Enhancement Plan that will highlight tools to deal with the challenges identified through the information gathering and data collection processes with an updated vision and goals for the county. After the draft is reviewed and cleared for public comment by the AEB, a public information meeting will be convened in late summer. After the AEB signs off on the final plan, the County Board of Supervisors must approve the plan. Ultimately, the Plan must be submitted to the State Commissioner of Agriculture for approval.

Interested in learning about how farmers can be paid for soil health and other ecosystem services?  Join the Town of Geneva and the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association for our upcoming Virtual Farming Symposium at 3:00m, March 31.  Registration is required!  Register here

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