The new 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative will invest $100 million into vulnerable farms across the county over the next 10 years. This initiative is part of the Farmland Development Rights Program (PDR). Suffolk County was the first county in the nation to form a Farmland Development Rights Program, which seeks to preserve remaining unprotected farmland throughout the county, with the majority of these lands being on the East End.
In an era where Long Island’s East End is rapidly developing, the program aims to give farmers incentives to maintain their farms. The PDR was established in 1974 after the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board recommended the preservation of 30,000 acres of farmland in the county. In 1977, the first farmland development rights were purchased; the two farms, totaling 131 acres, were located in Riverhead. Today, the county has preserved more than 20,000 acres countywide. Through this new preservation program, Suffolk County will work to preserve the last 10,000 acres.
Farming isn’t just a vital part of Suffolk’s economy; it plays an integral role in its unique culture. We are familiar with Long Island’s sandy beaches, its rocky shores, and its great nightlife. But in 1820, only 5 percent of the population lived in urban areas; the rest lived on farms. As early as the 1840s, farmers were using the Long Island Rail Road to get their goods to the market. The largest crop produced was corn, closely followed by potatoes and oats. During the 1900s, Long Island became well known for its ducks. At its peak in the 1960s, 7.5 million ducks were being raised on Long Island.
Preserving this land helps the local economy. Suffolk has 560 farms that employ over 4600 people and generate $226 million in sales. It is the fourth-largest agricultural-producing county in New York State. In the 1970s, the first wineries opened on the East End. Now with over 60 different vineyards, they are one of the leading drivers of the agritourism sector. The East End of Suffolk County is a major tourist attraction, especially for those looking to leave the hustle and bustle of city life. Farmland helps to maintain a buffer between the suburban sprawl while maintaining the rural charm of the area.
The Community Preservation Fund has played a significant role in helping to maintain the beauty of our Island. The CPF was established by and continues to be maintained and administered by the five East End townships. While the county does not play a role in this effort, the benefits are essential to our collective efforts to preserve farmland throughout Suffolk County. Over the past 23 years, this program has generated over $1.7 billion through a 2.5 percent property transfer tax. Due to the high number of people looking to escape the city and move to the suburbs, these jurisdictions have seen an influx of new residents and homeowners. This is excellent news for the CPF, which generated $93 million in the first five months of 2020.
The CPF was initially only used for land preservation. But as we continue to achieve our goals in farmland preservation, the CPF has been able to expand its mission. In 2020, legislators passed a bill that allowed the CPF to use 20 percent of the funds to support water-quality preservation projects. So far, the fund has supported projects in Mecox Bay, Sag Pond, and Georgica Pond.
One of the things that make Suffolk Country so phenomenal is its natural beauty. We have been blessed with glacial soils, a cool maritime climate, and native flora, all of which help contribute to our vital agricultural industry and our magnificent landscape. By defending our farmers and conserving our farmland with the new 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative, we invest in Suffolk’s future and ensure that generations to come will still flock to the Island for our wineries, produce stands, and most importantly, our farms.
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