Cultivate New York: An Agenda to Protect Farmland for Growing Food and the Economy

By David Haight, New York State Director, American Farmland Trust
Food connects all New Yorkers. Everyone needs food to live and hundreds of thousands of people in New York make their living on farms or from businesses associated with farming and food processing. The foundation of this food system is farmers, and the agricultural land that they need for growing food. With less than 3 percent of the Earth's surface suitable for farming, fertile soil is a precious resource. And, as global food production needs to increase by 70 percent by 2050, it is going to become even more valuable.

The United States is home to one of the world's greatest concentrations of fertile soil. Tragically, millions of acres of farmland have been destroyed in this country by poorly planned real estate development. In New York alone, roughly 5,000 farms have been paved over since the early 1980s – put differently, an average of 3 farms a week have been destroyed for over 30 years.

Saving Farmland in NYS
In response to this crisis, Governor Mario Cuomo and the New York State Legislature passed the Agricultural Protection Act in 1992, creating the state's Farmland Protection Program. The program began by offering funding and assistance to counties to develop agricultural and farmland protection plans.

Since that time, more than 50 counties have developed plans that have spurred important accomplishments across New York including: 
retention and expansion of agricultural districts, development of county-funded farmland protection programs, and creation of agricultural economic development strategies. Recently, the state began to offer funding to counties to update agriculture and farmland protection plans over 10 years old, as well as to municipalities to create their own local plans. By the end of April 2016 the state will have awarded 23 grants for updating county agriculture and farmland protection plans and 82 planning grants to towns for a total of $2,335,720.

In 1996, state law was amended and the Farmland Protection Program began offering funds, sourced from the state's Environmental Protection Fund, to aid local governments in permanently protecting farmland. By the end of 2015, the State of New York had invested $140,306,211 to aid farm families, local governments and land trusts in protecting 59,510 acres on 222 farms.

To mark this 20th anniversary, American Farmland Trust has released a new report, Cultivate New York: An Agenda to Protect Farmland for
Growing Food and the Economy. That report celebrates two decades of state funding to conserve agricultural land and provides a road map
for the achievement of important new goals, including the protection of 1,000 farms in the next decade.

Looking to the Future of Farmland Preservation
Last year, New York invested the highest level of funding in the state's history and became a national leader in funding the conservation of working
farmland. Yet much more needs to be done. New York has helped permanently protect less than 1 percent of the state's agricultural land and lags far behind neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania, in protecting the farmland needed for farming and growing food. In the meantime new threats to
New York's farms, such as the need to transition farmland to new and next generation farmers and climate change, are emerging.

Cultivate New York: An Agenda to Protect Farmland for Growing Food and the Economy celebrates accomplishments of the last 20 years,
while offering new evidence of threats to farmland in New York and the urgent need for action. It reflects input from farmers, local governments,
land trusts and other key stakeholders and suggests a road map to protecting the state's irreplaceable farmland. Cultivate New York offers 14 recommendations for action organized under 4 goals: 

Goal 1: Invest in Making New York a National Leader in Protecting the Land to Grow Food and the Economy.

Goal 2: Improve Capacity to Protect Farms Quickly and Efficiently.

Goal 3: Enable the Transition of Farmland to New and Next Generation Farmers.

Goal 4: Plan to Conserve Farmland Resources for a Resilient Farm and Food Economy in New York.

New York is uniquely poised to have a farm and food economy that feeds millions of state residents, and serves as a cornerstone of the state's economic future for years to come. Protecting farmland is a key component of ensuring that such a vision becomes reality. On the 20th anniversary of state funding for permanently protecting working farmland, it is vital that New York renew its commitment to protecting this precious resource.

Cultivate New York is available online at