Department of Agriculture & Markets

 
 Agricultural Districts
Bob Somers 518-457-2713

Farmer Benefits & Protections

Article 25-AA PDF of the Agriculture and Markets Law authorizes the creation of local agricultural districts pursuant to landowner initiative, preliminary county review, state certification, and county adoption. As of January 1, 2014, 224 agricultural districts existed statewide, containing approximately 24,130 farms and 8.8 million acres (about 30 percent of the State’s total land area).

The purpose of agricultural districting is to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. The Program is based on a combination of landowner incentives and protections, all of which are designed to forestall the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. Included in these benefits are preferential real property tax treatment (agricultural assessment and special benefit assessment), and protections against overly restrictive local laws, government funded acquisition or construction projects, and private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices.

Biennial Reports
Agriculture and Farmland Protection Biennial Report 2012 - 2013

District Creation & Review
The Division manages the certification of new districts and the review and recertification of existing districts. State certification confirms that a district meets the purposes and intent of the Agricultural Districts Law and all eligibility criteria described therein.

Agricultural District Profile Data Final 2014

Local Agricultural District Contact Information and County Agricultural District Map Data

Agricultural District 8-Year Review Forms

Agricultural Assessment
One of the most important benefits of the Agricultural Districts Program is the opportunity provided farmland owners to receive real property assessments based on the value of their land for agricultural production rather than on its development value. Farmers receiving agricultural assessment collectively save over $70 million annually. The Division administers the Land Classification System, including maintenance of the statewide master list of agricultural soils. This system provides the basic soils information needed to calculate agricultural assessments for individual farms.

Soil Group Numbers by County for 2014
Soil Group Worksheet - Form
2014 Agricultural Assessment Values

Notice of Intent
Another important provision of the Agricultural Districts Law is the mandate it places on state agencies, local governments, and public benefit corporations to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to farm operations in pursuing projects within an agricultural district which involve either the acquisition of farmland or the advance of public funds for certain construction activities. Division staff conduct detailed reviews of notice documents provided by project sponsors and recommend mitigative action where necessary. Such projects cannot proceed until the notice process is completed.

Restrictive Local Laws
The Agricultural Districts Law protects farmers against local laws which unreasonably restrict farm operations located within an agricultural district. Division staff, together with Department legal staff, review both existing and proposed laws to determine if they are compatible with farm operations. In cases where a local law is determined to be unreasonable, staff work with the involved local government to develop mutually accepted modifications. If a local government is unwilling to modify a restrictive law, the Department is authorized to take action to compel compliance with the Agricultural Districts Law. In a landmark decision, the State Court of Appeals ruled that the opinion of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets should be given deference in the interpretation and administration of this important right to farm protection.

Requests for review must be provided to the Department in writing and include a completed Section 305-a Review Form. Questions concerning the review of restrictive local laws can be directed to Bob Somers at 518-457-2713 or at bob.somers@agriculture.ny.gov.

Guidance Documents

Sound Agricultural Practices
The Agricultural Districts Law also authorizes the Commissioner to issue opinions, upon request, concerning the soundness of specific agricultural practices. If the Commissioner determines that a practice is sound, it shall not constitute a private nuisance. Division staff perform in-depth, on-site reviews of practices which are called into question. The information and facts they obtain form the basis for the Commissioner's opinion. In order for a practice to be considered sound, it must be legal, not harmful, necessary and supported by expert guidance or opinion. Most of these cases involve extensive investigation and may take six to twelve months or longer to complete depending on the complexity of the issue.
To request a sound agricultural practice review, a letter must be sent to the Department describing, in detail, the farm operation, the practices to be reviewed, and the nature of the nuisance complaint. All inquiries should be directed to Matt Brower at 518-457-2713 or at matthew.brower@agriculture.ny.gov.

Procedures Used to Conduct a Sound Agricultural Practice Review
"Sound Agricultural Practice" Opinions

Agricultural Enterprise Determinations
Under Section 308(4), the Commissioner is authorized to issue an opinion on whether particular land uses are agricultural in nature. When examining all agricultural practices, the Commissioner uses the Agriculture and Markets Law – Article 25AA to determine whether or not the practice under review is agricultural. To request an opinion, a letter must be submitted to the Commissioner describing the particular land use and any supporting information that may be helpful. Questions concerning such opinions should be directed to Bob Somers at 518-457-2713 or at bob.somers@agriculture.ny.gov.