Group gets $1.5M to help preserve farmland in Saratoga County

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Saratoga- Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that Saratoga PLAN — a private, nonprofit, conservation organization — will receive $1.5 million for two projects to help preserve farmland in Saratoga County.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that Saratoga PLAN — a private, nonprofit, conservation organization — will receive $1.5 million for two projects to help preserve farmland in Saratoga County.

Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN (which stands for Preserving Land And Nature), said the two projects involve the Barber Brothers Dairy Farm in Northumberland and the William H. Buckley Farm in Ballston.

The effort is funded through the state’s Farmland Protection Implementation Grant program, which is now in its 20th year.

“The continued strength of New York’s agricultural industry is essential to our economy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This funding will support the next-generation of Capital Region farmers, preserve our natural resources, and continue to strengthen the industry for generations to come.”

Trabka said 432 acres of the 1,200 acre Barber farm will be conserved with the award. On the Buckley farm, the award will protect 63 acres.

Trabka said this funding will help the Barber brothers pay off a mortgage for land they had purchased adjacent to their farm, therefore having a more profitable business.

“What these grants do is they pass through Saratoga PLAN to the land owner, and what we do is purchase the conservation easement on these farms. So, it’s a very competitive program, very much based on the quality of the operation, the quality of the lands, the context in which the farm is operating and whether it is able to provide a viable and profitable business,” Trabka said.

With the ever-evolving nature of the business, Trabka said it is important for the state to know the land is a good place to preserve. Trabka said in New York state, the land under production currently feeds about 30 percent of the population, so “conserving the good farms now is important for the future of our food security.”

“With Saratoga County being the fastest growing county there’s more pressure here and more mouths to feed,” she said. “Plus, we have more farmland being converted into other uses so it’s important to preserve what we have.”

Trabka said the funds cover 87.5 percent of the total project cost, so the land owners will actually have to make a “charitable donation” to cover the other 12.5 percent. The total cost includes transitional costs, as well as the value of the easement. It is a long process, according to Trabka, with numerous steps. A survey of the farms’ perimeters is one of the first steps, as well as an environmental site assessment.

Trabka said it might take two years before the projects get fully underway and the farmers actually get any money. The initial payments from the state will cover the survey, legal costs, and other steps.

For more information about Saratoga PLAN, visit its website at http://www.saratogaplan.org/

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