In our increasingly modern world, farms remain a vital and unparalleled resource to New Yorkers. The agricultural industry reaches far and wide and benefits us environmentally, economically and, of course, gastronomically. However, New York's farms are at risk and urgently need help to ensure that farming has a future.
In addition to providing food, farms play important ecological roles by retaining storm water, filtering surface water and replenishing ground water. These processes supply New Yorkers with clean drinking water and would require expensive, high maintenance, engineered systems to replace if lost.
Protecting our farms would help clear New York's air and preserve our state's wetlands, forests, watersheds and open space. Locally grown food also reduces auto emissions by reducing the distance between farms and our tables. And of course, active farms help prevent the encroachment of development onto our natural environment.
Farms directly generate $4.4 billion per year for New York State's economy and further contribute to local economies by purchasing goods and services from local banks, contractors, equipment dealers and veterinarians, and by providing jobs on the farm and in food processing, distribution and marketing businesses.
And finally, New York farms play an important role in keeping our society healthy and combating obesity by providing people with fresh, locally grown produce. Farms are our primary source of nutrition and as the saying goes, "No farms, No food."
The largest threat to New York's farms is development, which typically comes in the form of sprawl - unplanned urban growth outside of existing water, sewer, electricity and transportation systems. Because farms are less expensive than residential and commercial land, they have become increasingly vulnerable to development.
Farmers are repeatedly forced to sell acres of farmland because they cannot afford to maintain them, thus decreasing the availability of open space and the possibility of agriculture and natural habitats being restored to the area.
The American Farmland Trust estimates that a New York farm is lost to development every 3.5 days. Clearly, there is a pressing need for decisive action to protect this vital industry.The New York Farmland Protection Fund was established in 1996 to protect farms and preserve the future of agriculture. This fund would allow farmers to reinvest money into constructing new facilities, buying more land, upgrading equipment and obtaining what they need to keep their farms productive and economically viable.
Between 1997 and 2007, New York State lost 613,500 acres of farmland and the trend continues with current losses amounting to 25 acres of agricultural land lost every day. Money is constantly being swept out of the program for unrelated purposes and $110.1 million appropriated for the program remains undisbursed to the farms. Furthermore, between 1996 and 2008, $547 million in farmland protection funds requested were denied because of insufficient funding.
New York spends less to protect farmland than any of its five neighboring states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. It is the only state that has seen a net loss of farms, while the rest, with the exception of Vermont, have experienced a net growth. It is time that New York steps up its game and acts to protect this critical resource.
The American Farmland Trust, NY Farm Bureau and NYLCV are all working on solutions to find additional resources for the Farmland Protection Program. Please contact these organizations if you're interested in becoming an activist for farmland preservation.
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