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Land trusts accept great responsibility

August 9, 2018 07:59 pm

The nagging problem of what will happen to family farms in Columbia and Greene counties could take another step toward a solution, thanks to the state Department of Agriculture & Markets and local land conservancies.

Ag & Markets did its part by making $500,000 available to eligible land conservancies to protect farmland in the state.

Now, it’s up to the land conservancies in Greene and Columbia counties to do what they have done best for years: taking advantage of grants to protect valuable farmland.

Funds will be provided through the Land Trust Grants Program, which is kicking off its second round of the year. In this round, up to $50,000 per grant will be awarded.

In simple terms, this is how it works: Conservancies purchase easements for farmland from the farmers in exchange for the development rights to the land. Farmers often prefer having the cash to holding the development rights.

Historically, this approach has been most successful. For example, the Columbia County Land Conservancy closed purchases of easements on the Doyle Farm in Austerlitz and the Ronnybrook Dairy Farm in 2017.

The Greene Land Trust in 2017 completed an interesting transaction when Theodore Flege, of Hannacroix, donated 102 acres of farmland to the Trust to keep the land out of the clutches of developers after his death.

The Columbia Land Conservancy and the Greene Land Trust, with help from the state and, in some cases, Scenic Hudson, have stepped up to perform a unique public service. Farmers are coping with advancing age and expensive changes in agricultural techniques.

It’s now the job of land trusts to be the caretakers of future generations of farmers and farmland. Maintaining these properties as farms or protecting their integrity against developers will depend on vigilance and commitment.