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Ag exemption is in the planning stages in St. Lawrence County

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County leaders are working on a model resolution to have the state Legislature pass an ag exemption that would reward people for reclaiming farmland.

“We have a lot of land that is under-utilized. The whole purpose of the resolution is to bring attention to the fact that we have land,” said Robert G. Andrews, chairman of the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board and of the county Soil & Water Conservation District. “The demand for food is growing constantly. This is an opportunity for St. Lawrence County to do something about that.”

Climate change is already having an impact on north country agriculture, with more grapes grown along with different grains and soybeans. The hops industry could return given the right circumstances, Mr. Andrews told legislators at a committee meeting Monday.

“We are seeing weather change. Global warming is going to affect St. Lawrence County in a positive way,” he said. “We have to make people aware of these opportunities and maybe give them a little incentive.”

Of the county’s 1.7 million acres, 347,000 acres are used for farmland, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said. That’s down from five years ago, when 403,000 acres were in production.

The county ranks highest in the state for unused land, Mr. Andrews said.

“It’s worth the venture,” he said.

While the county is not known for prime farmland at 18 percent of its total acreage compared to a statewide average of 22 percent prime farmland, and much higher percentages in the Midwest, agriculture is a mainstay of the county’s economy, Mr. Morrill said.

“We have this obligation to do everything we can to encourage farming in St. Lawrence County,” he said. “That is wealth generation.”

Agricultural leaders envision the proposed ag exemption for clearing scrub land and putting in improvements, such as drainage, so it can be tilled for crop production as a type of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program that would gradually return the property to the tax rolls.

Any exemption would have to come from New York state,” county Real Property Director Darren W. Colton said.

“This is just an idea at the moment,” he said. “There will be a lot of debate at the state level.”

The proposed resolution could be beneficial to many of his constituents, Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, said.

“There’s a lot of land going to brush every day,” he said. “I think tonight’s a good night to start the discussion.”

Legislators tabled the resolution for modifications but expect to consider it again in a month. They plan to involve state Senator Patty A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, in the discussion.

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