This is the third blog in a series discussing the ins and outs of Article 25-AA of the Agriculture and Markets Law (AML). This blog covers “start-up” farm operations and what is required to receive the benefits of the AML.
Article 25-AA generally provides benefits to agricultural enterprises that (1) meet the state definition of a “farm operation” and (2) are located in a county adopted, state certified “agricultural district.”
What is a Farm Operation?
A “farm operation” is a commercial enterprise that consists of the land and on-farm buildings and practices which contribute to the production, preparation and marketing of crops, livestock and livestock products, including commercial horse boarding operations, among others. However, one cannot simply maintain a back-yard vegetable garden and receive the benefits provided by the AML. There are three important qualifying characteristics:
- At least seven acres of land must be used for the production of crops, livestock or livestock products or as part of the commercial horse boarding operation;
- The farm must generate an average gross sales value of ten thousand dollars or more; and
- The farm operation must have consisted of at least seven acres of land and have generated an average gross sales value of ten thousand dollars or more for the previous two years. 1
Notably, too, a farm operation may consist of one or more parcels of owned or rented land which may or may not be contiguous to each other.
What is an Agricultural District?
An agricultural district is a county administered program designed to protect and promote farming. To add a farm to an agricultural district, there is an annual thirty-day period, usually in the spring, when a landowner may apply to the county for inclusion in a district. The months-long application process will also require a referral and recommendation from the county agricultural and farmland protection board, a noticed public hearing and approval by the county legislature, and certification by the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. Your local county website should be consulted for the annual inclusion dates and application requirements.
If a “farm operation” is included within a county adopted, state certified agricultural district, some examples of the benefits that can be provided include:
- Zoning: AML § 305-a prevents municipalities from unreasonably restricting or regulating farm operations;
- Taxes: AML § 305 provides an agricultural assessment (i.e., reduced property tax bill). AML § 306 also provides an agricultural assessment for farmland outside an agricultural district but imposes a stricter tax penalty if the land is taken out of agricultural production; and
- Right-to-Farm: AML § 308 protects sound agricultural practices from private nuisance claims based on odor or noise complaints, for example.
Additional AML Support for “Start-Up” Farm Operations
The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets has issued guidance to support start-up farm operations in recognition of the challenges confronting new agricultural enterprises. It is the Department’s position that municipalities should allow a reasonable period of time for a farm to be established and achieve the level of production required to process, market and sell its crops/livestock/livestock products.2 Additionally, the Department permits start-up farmers to import a portion of its product from other farms to assist the new farm in attracting potential customers and establish itself as a viable commercial enterprise in the community.3
Agriculture remains an important economic engine of many local communities and the state as a whole. The experienced Land Use, Zoning & Development team at Cuddy & Feder is available to assist start-up farm operations in applying for and securing local zoning approvals, agricultural assessments, and agricultural district designations.
- If a farm has less than 7 acres of land it may still qualify for designation as a “farm operation.” To do so, however, the average gross sales value requirement is increased to fifty thousand dollars annually.