05/12/14 3:00pm
05/12/2014 3:00 PM
Congressman Tim Bishop  (left) and County Executive Steve Bellone urged the federal government to designate the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary as   (Credit: Paul Squire)

Congressman Tim Bishop (left) and County Executive Steve Bellone urge the federal government to designate the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary as “critical conservation” areas during a press conference Monday afternoon. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Turn the Peconic Estuary and Long Island Sound into a “critical conservation” area and free up federal funds for local farmers to protect water quality?

It’s a “no-brainer,” North Fork politicians say. (more…)

01/16/14 1:30pm
01/16/2014 1:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Kujawski's farm land on Herricks Lane in Jameport.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Kujawski’s farm land on Herricks Lane in Jameport.

It’s good to see county government update its 1996 Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan with a more recent and comprehensive study. It’s often said that having only two representatives in an 18-member legislative body puts the five East End towns at a political disadvantage. And while there’s plenty of truth to that, an in-depth update to hone in on concerns and legislative priorities in the area’s most vital industry should not go overlooked.

Related: Plans for the future of Suffolk farms in the works

With nearly two-thirds of surveyed farmers in the county engaging in some form of agritourism — a number that’s not likely to drop anytime soon — perhaps the most obvious area of study would be how local governments can plan for growth of that aspect of the industry while maintaining the quality of life that characterizes the area.

It’s imperative that farmers be able to earn a living moving forward, though the North Fork consists of a diverse and well-rounded community that extends beyond those tilling the fields. While the final product remains to be seen, it’s a positive sign that the county is exploring and encouraging the growth of Suffolk’s farm industry. And looking ahead. Updating the county’s comprehensive approach to agriculture and farmland protection bodes well for the future.

12/18/13 4:00pm
12/18/2013 4:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

A measure by Legislator Al Krupski to amend how the county purchases farmland and open space failed to pass on Tuesday, even after the Cutchogue Democrat revised the proposed bill after it initially drew the ire of some environmentalists.

In June, Mr. Krupski proposed his original farmland preservation amendment, which suggested splitting the use of the county’s Drinking Water Protection Fund 50-50 between open space and farmland purchases. But dedicating a specific portion of the revenue stream to one use or the other proved too much to ask, and the legislator later altered his proposed amendment, pitching a watered-down version of the legislation in July.

Mr. Krupski’s amended proposal made no mention of setting aside a certain percentage of land purchases for open space or farmland. It did, however, set certain standards that parcels must meet in order to be appraised by the county — a required step before legislators vote to purchase land.

“I find it surprising that in any way, we could find it controversial that we would spend our money more wisely,” he said before the vote at Tuesday’s general meeting.

But the added benchmarks concerned at least 13 legislators, who voted to table the amendment in the final meeting of the year Tuesday, effectively killing it.

Attention to Suffolk’s land purchases through the Drinking Water Protection Fund came to the fore in the past year after the county bonded out against future revenues and subsequently used nearly all the funding. While land was at that time available for historically low prices, Suffolk County, Southampton and Riverhead towns were just a few of the municipalities that borrowed to buy now rather than later.

Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) said before Tuesday’s floor vote that he didn’t believe the proposed appraisal rating system was designed to be considered a threshold for whether a particular parcel could ever be purchased.

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) said Mr. Krupski’s amendment would likely favor the first and second legislative districts — the North and South Forks — as they would codify the process of appraising land parcels, and most parcels available for open space and farmland preservation purchases are located out east.

“To set a rule that would cause me to put my constituents at a disadvantage permanently — I have a very difficult time doing that,” he said.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), chair of the county’s environment, planning and agriculture committee, said last week that those proposed thresholds, in effect, favor purchasing farmland over open space, as the standards were harder to meet for open space buys.

“It’s not treating them equally, and we have a preference for open space because this is drinking water protection money,” she said. “And a wooded parcel that’s open space is protecting drinking water more than preserving farmland would.”

While the Mr. Krupski’s proposed amendment wasn’t rejected, having been tabled Tuesday, it would have to be re-introduced next year in order to be considered once again. Mr. Krupski said he doesn’t intend to bring it back up immediately and will see how previously approved alterations in the land-buying process, which go into effect next year, work out.

11/20/13 1:00pm
11/20/2013 1:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | U-pick operations like this one will soon be allowed on preserved farmland.

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday unanimously passed a bill amending the county’s Farmland Preservation Law, which will allow activities promoting tourism to take place on preserved farmland – ensuring such farm operations stay economically viable in the future.

The legislation, proposed by County Executive Steve Bellone, applies to land purchased in part or in whole by Suffolk County for the purpose of farmland development.

Once signed by Mr. Bellone, activities promoting agricultural tourism including U-pick operations, harvestable crop mazes and hayrides would become acceptable, as well as the addition of larger farm stands, permeable parking areas, and processing facilities that create locally crafted goods such as wine or potato chips.

The new regulations will also allow educational tours to teach visitors about agricultural production and environmental sustainability, according to the bill.

“These updates to the County’s Farmland Development Rights program will ensure that current and future generations of Suffolk County farmers will have the economic tools necessary to succeed on Long Island,” Mr. Bellone said. “Our agricultural industry not only drives our local economy but it sustains healthy communities with fresh local foods and preserves our overall quality of living.”

The amended code also calls for committee members to prioritize parcels of land being considered for purchase every six months, rather than once a year – to be drawn up in a comprehensive master list submitted to the County Legislature, according to the bill.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said last month that while supporting farmers who operate on preserved land should indeed be on the county’s priority list after investing in the land, doing so should be done carefully.

“The primary purpose of the underlying investment was for agricultural production, so it’s important that farming not drift too far into entertainment,” Mr. DeLuca said.

“But obviously the underpinning of the financial investment is to protect farmland,” he said. “They don’t want to undercut the core of their investment, which is agricultural land for agricultural production. That requires some delicate balancing and regular scrutiny.”

11/09/13 2:30pm
11/09/2013 2:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

The Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board will host a series of meetings to discuss updates to the county’s farmland protection plan. Local meetings will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead and Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Southold Town Hall. Light refreshments will be served.

The program is held in cooperation with the Suffolk County Division of Planning and the Environment, Peconic Land Trust, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Long Island Community Foundation, Long Island Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

RSVP to Robin, 283-3195 or rharris@peconiclandtrust.org.

10/25/13 11:00am
10/25/2013 11:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county's farmland preservation bill that would include more agritourism uses on preserved parcels. Pictured is Reeves Farm on Main Road in Aquebogue.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county’s farmland preservation bill that would include more agritourism uses on preserved parcels. Pictured is Reeves Farm on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Amendments to the county code could allow more activities on preserved farmland, as elected officials say opening up uses on the land would permit farming operations to thrive long-term in the face of constantly creeping suburban sprawl.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county’s Farmland Preservation Law that would permit uses such as U-pick operations, larger farm stands and processing facilities that create locally crafted goods such as wine or potato chips.

“Suffolk County has a great agricultural heritage,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue). “It’s part of our culture and, just as importantly, it’s a huge part of our economy.”

Mr. Krupski is a farmer himself, one of hundreds in the county who have propelled Suffolk to lead the state in terms of agricultural sales volume. A U.S. Department of Agriculture census completed in 2007 showed the county tallied over $240 million agricultural sales that year, an increase of $40 million – or 20 percent – from five years earlier.

But legislators have still been seeking ways to help the industry grow over the long haul. The process started with implementation of the county’s farmland development program nearly 40 years ago – in addition to town-run Community Preservation Fund programs that have been active since the late 1990s.

The next step is maintaining the farming industry itself, Mr. Bellone said.

“These updates to the county’s Farmland Development Rights program will ensure that current and future generations of Suffolk County farmers will have the economic tools necessary to succeed on Long Island,” Mr. Bellone (D-Babylon) wrote in a statement.

The legislation itself would apply to land purchased in part or in whole by Suffolk County for the purpose of farmland development. According to numbers provided by Southold Town, that could affect 83 parcels comprising over 1,700 acres. In Riverhead, according to town figures, more than 1,750 acres on 54 parcels have been purchased in conjunction with the county since 1998 alone. However, whether or not specific parcels would be able to take advantage of the new allowances, depend on easements on each specific purchase, and local zoning would still apply to any county regulations.

The legislation would double the allowable size of farm stands on preserved land from 500 square feet to 1,000. Processing facilities would be permitted on site, also limited 1,000 square feet in area when combined with the size of a farm stand. Up to 49 percent of goods processed on site could come from other farms on Long Island.

Agritourism regulations would be eased on preserved farmland as well, allowing U-pick facilities, crop mazes, hayrides and educational tours.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said that while supporting farmers who operate on preserved land should indeed be on the county’s priority list after investing in the land, doing so should be done carefully.

“The primary purpose of the underlying investment was for agricultural production, so it’s important that farming not drift too far into entertainment,” Mr. DeLuca said.

“But obviously the underpinning of the financial investment is to protect farmland,” he said. “They don’t want to undercut the core of their investment, which is agricultural land for agricultural production. That requires some delicate balancing and regular scrutiny.”

After one public hearing about the proposed changes earlier this month in Riverside, two more are scheduled for November: on Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 9:30 a.m. Both meetings will be held at the W.H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge.

07/15/13 8:00am
07/15/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | One of 12 new weather stations that provide real-time online information to Suffolk farmers.

Researchers with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County are hoping new weather stations will help local farmers better plan pest control applications, thus cutting down on chemical use on farmland.

Through grant funding, the Cornell research group’s agricultural stewardship program has installed a network of 12 weather stations across the East End so growers can better track and predict weather changes that can affect insect development, Cornell officials said.

Each station will take hourly measurements of weather factors like temperature, rainfall, wind direction and the amount of water vapor in the air. Stations will be equipped with Internet access, making the information available to growers and the public through a server at newa.cornell.edu.

Cornell will then integrate weather data with expert scouting in the field, to “predict emerging pests” and see whether pesticide applications are needed, said Rebecca Wiseman, Cornell’s agricultural stewardship coordinator.

When possible, growers can use insect traps and pheromone-based methods to disrupt mating cycles to help cut down on pest populations without using pesticides, Ms. Wiseman said. Using those techniques, she said, “pesticide use can be greatly diminished for certain kinds of pests and there are instances where it can be eliminated.”

Eleven of the 12 RainWise brand weather stations have been placed in North Fork vineyards and orchards, Ms. Wiseman said.

Before Cornell received the $190,000 in funding for the stations, which came from various organizations, only three weather stations were located on the East End, and only one on the North Fork, she said.

“The fact of the matter is, we have so many micro-climates here on the Island, the three sites were inadequate to meet the needs of our agricultural community,” she said.

Gabriella Purita, business manager at One Woman Wines and Vineyards in Southold, said the vineyard received its new weather station in May, and the device has already helped growers there with mold and mildew control.

“If we plan and see an outbreak of a certain pest, mold or mildew annually because of certain weather conditions we’ll know to preventively treat that area,” Ms. Purita said. “We hopefully won’t have to use applications because we’ll know when to use the traps and pheromone cycles when pests are at their most active.”

The better farmers can forecast weather cycles, the more they can control basic farming practices, said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

“It makes decision-making of farming more advanced and more economically prudent,” he said.

Aside from their potential effects on groundwater, chemicals and pesticides are expensive. Farmers do not want to use them unless they are necessary, Mr. Gergela said.

“The costs have gone up astronomically over the past five to 10 years, so it ties to profitability and good business decisions, as well as the science side,” he said.

Funding came from grants awarded by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the Long Island Community Foundation and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

cmiller@timesreview.com