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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.

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