New York State certified Agricultural Districts are intended to protect the State's agricultural lands and prevent the loss of these lands to development pressures. These districts also provide certain protections for landowners who wish to keep their property in agricultural production. The Cattaraugus County Department of Economic Development, Planning & Tourism, under the authorization of the Cattaraugus County Legislature and the direction of the Cattaraugus County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, is responsible for the administration of the New York State Agricultural Districts Program in Cattaraugus County.
The statutory authority for the creation of Agricultural Districts originates in Article 25-AA of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. Established in 1971, the Agricultural Districts Law is an initiative that focuses on striking a balance between property tax relief for farmland owners, farmland preservation, and the economic viability of farming in New York State. The Agricultural Districts Law is predicated on the fact that viable agricultural land is one of the State's most important and irreplaceable environmental and economic natural resources. The Law provides a locally initiated and voluntary mechanism for the protection and enhancement of agricultural land for both production and as a natural and ecological resource of statewide significance. The Agricultural Districts Law authorizes the creation of local Agricultural Districts pursuant to landowner initiative, preliminary county review, State certification, and county adoption. Agricultural Districts currently comprise approximately 30 percent of New York State's total land area.
Concepts & Benefits of Agricultural Districts
The purpose of the Agricultural Districts Law is to provide a means by which agricultural lands can be protected an enhanced as a viable segment of the economy. Agricultural districting is designed to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. The Agricultural Districts Program is based on a combination of landowner incentives and protections, all of which are designed to hinder the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. The benefits of having agricultural property included in an Agricultural District include:
Special agricultural value assessments for property tax purposes;
Protections against overly restrictive local laws relative to farm structures and normal farming operations and activities, unless such laws are related to public health or safety;
Restrictions on public entities taking land in a district by eminent domain without special justification;
Limitations are placed on the advancement of public funds for acquisition or construction projects in an agricultural district, including the extension of sewer and water services; and
Protections against private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices. Under the Agricultural Districts Law, the Commissioner of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets is authorized to issue opinions, upon request, concerning the soundness of specific agricultural practices.
The agricultural value assessment for property taxes is one of the most important and visible benefits to farmers for having property in an Agricultural District. It provides farmland owners with the opportunity to receive real property assessments based on the value of their land for agricultural production rather than on its development value. In the event that land in an Agricultural District that is receiving an agricultural value assessment is converted to a non-agricultural use, the landowner must make a penalty payment equal to five times the taxes saved in the last year in which the land benefited from an agricultural assessment. In addition, the landowner is required to pay an interest payment of six percent per year compounded annually for each year in which an agricultural assessment was granted, not to exceed five years.
The limitation on government funded acquisition or construction projects is another very important provision of the Agricultural Districts Law. The Law mandates state agencies, local governments, and public benefit corporations to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to farm operations for projects occurring wholly or partially within the boundaries of State certified Agricultural Districts. In these instances, a Notice of Intent to undertake an action in an Agricultural District must be filed with the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets by the project sponsors. The notice must contain information outlining a detailed description of the project, its impact on agriculture, and mitigation measures where adverse impacts on agriculture are identified. Government funded projects cannot proceed until the review process is complete and the Notice of Intent is approved by the State.
For more information on the benefits and protections that New York State Agricultural Districts provide, please download New York's Agricultural Districts Brochure.
Ag District Map
Ag District Inclusion/Exclusion Form