An East Hampton man who owns one of the biggest agricultural companies in the country has purchased more than 300 acres of farmland on the North Fork in the past nine months, including more than 100 acres that can only be used for agriculture.
Stefan Soloviev, owner of Crossroads Agriculture, said he hopes to establish another branch of his farming business on the North Fork, while also building some homes.
“The overall plan is to build some high-end homes and then operate the rest of the farmland, producing anything from landscape material to wineries to potatoes to whatever,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Soloviev plans to build multiple homes on some of the farmland that has development rights intact, but said he plans to sell development rights to what he doesn’t develop and keep the majority as farmland.
He described his plan as an “80-20 split,” meaning 80 percent farmland and 20 percent homes.
He founded Crossroads Agriculture in 1999 in Topeka, Kan. It produces corn, wheat and beef, according to Mr. Soloviev, who also owns an East Hampton construction company called Truxel Homes.
Mr. Soloviev, 42, grew up in New York City and spent summers in East Hampton. The North Fork, he said, reminds him of East Hampton when he was a child.
“It’s close to home and I think the North Fork is pretty undervalued,” he said.
Mr. Soloviev’s first purchase on the North Fork occurred about four years ago when he purchased about 27 acres of farmland in Orient that has one development right, where he plans to build a home. The rest of that property has sold its development rights, meaning it can be used only for agricultural.
Since late 2016, when he purchased the former Davis Peach Farm on Hulse Landing Road in Wading River, Mr. Soloviev has acquired several additional properties on the North Fork, extending out to Orient.
The 64-acre peach farm had been in financial difficulty after severe weather wiped out much of its crops.
Mr. Soloviev bought the property and continued to operate it as a peach farm, as the previous owners had sold the development rights.
“We’ve planted about 500 new trees on it,” Mr. Soloviev said. “It was in pretty poor shape when we purchased it, but we did a lot of work over the winter and it’s actually producing pretty well for us right now.”
The peach farm is now called Hayden’s Orchard, after Mr. Soloviev’s son.
Other properties acquired by Mr. Soloviev include 28 acres on Main Road in East Marion, for which development rights were sold to the county. That land was owned by Joseph and Marion Cherepowich.
Soloviev signs are now posted on those properties, as well as at 30-acre vineyard on the north side of Route 48 in Southold, just west of Horton Avenue, on which the development rights were sold.
Mr. Soloviev says he’s also bought the 35-acre Duck Walk North Vineyard on the south side of Route 48 and 70 acres on the north side of Route 48 that stretch to Long Island Sound in Peconic. Both properties and the 30 acres in Southold were owned by the Damianos family, who own Pindar and Duck Walk vineyards.
Alexander Damianos of Pindar said the three properties they sold were not needed in their operation, which has been more profitable and efficient in recent years. He said the piece that stretches to the Sound was an investment property and was not farmed, while the one in Southold was difficult to farm because it was too far from core operations in Cutchogue.
“We’ve simplified our business and made it more profitable,” Mr. Damianos said. “Our family is in it for at least the next couple of generations.”
He said Pindar still has 350 acres of grapes and Duck Walk has 100 acres.In addition, Mr. Soloviewv says he has purchased a 60-acre farm on the north side of Route 48 in Cutchogue, which also stretches as far north as the Sound. That property was owned by the late Stanley Krupski, a distant cousin of county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).
“Stanley’s father and my great-grandfather were first cousins,” Mr. Krupski said, adding that he is not familiar with Mr. Soloviev or his company.
That property has a sign on it saying it is under contract to be sold.
Mr. Soloviev said that between those two large parcels, he might build five or six homes and keep the rest in agriculture.
Crossroads Agriculture owns about 420,000 acres nationwide, mostly in New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado, Mr. Soloviev said.
Of those, about 300,000 acres are used as grasslands for cattle and about 120,000 acres are farmland.
Publications such as Western Farm Press and the Land Report have listed Mr. Soloviev among the 100 largest land owners in the U.S.
He said he’s been building homes on the South Fork for “a little while” but has yet to build anything on the North Fork. Crossroads Agriculture will operate a small percentage of the farms acquired on the North Fork, but the majority will be leased out to local farmers, he said.
Rob Carpenter, administrative director for the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he hasn’t spoken to Mr. Soloviev, but added, “If there is any kind of farmland preservation going on, that is valuable for the industry. A piece of pie is better than no pie at all.”
Mr. Carpenter said about 15,000 acres of farmland remain in Suffolk County that haven’t been preserved through the purchase or transfer of development rights.
“Obviously, with the high prices of land today and people needing a return on investment, there is going to be some development,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to save all of the 15,000 acres that are left.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day there will be a good portion of farmland left that farmers will be able to continue to farm here and have access to land,” Mr. Carpenter said.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he was unaware of Mr. Soloviev or his company.
“It’s nice that someone is looking to invest so heavily into the town who clearly has a commitment to agriculture,” Mr. Russell said. “However, a goal of developing 20 percent is a goal that is 20 percent more than we would hope for. Perhaps he would consider developing zero percent.”
Top photos: From left, land in Orient, East Marion, Southold and Wading River. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)