Agricultural Districts

New York’s Agricultural Districts Law, Article 25-AA of the NYS Agriculture and Markets Law, was enacted in 1971 to help keep farmland in agricultural production. The ADL recognizes that agricultural lands are important and irreplaceable resources, which are in jeopardy of being lost to as a result of increasing costs of agricultural businesses, development pressures and regulatory constraints. The Law seeks to create economic and regulatory incentives which encourage farmers to continue farming. The ADL has two basic components, agricultural assessments for taxes and agricultural district creation and review.

Agricultural Districts are designed to protect agriculture through a combination of landowner incentives and protections that discourage the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses, including:

  • Providing reduced property tax bills for agricultural lands – property owners must apply annually with their local assessor for an agricultural assessment;
  • Providing the framework to limit unreasonable local regulation on accepted agricultural practices;
  • Providing Right to Farm provisions that protect accepted agricultural practices from private nuisance suits;
  • Modifying state agency administrative regulations and procedures to encourage the continuation of agricultural businesses;
  • Modifying the ability to advance public funds to construct facilities that encourage development;
  • Preventing benefit assessments, special ad valorem levies, or other rates and fees on farmland for the finance of improvements such as water, sewer or non-farm drainage;
  • Modifying the ability of public agencies to acquire farmland through eminent domain.

Agricultural Districts primarily benefit owners of land that is farmed. Being part of an Agricultural District does not:

  • Directly affect the use of land beyond existing requirements, for example, zoning;
  • Directly reduce or increase tax assessments—agricultural landowners can apply to the local tax assessor for an annual agricultural assessment.

Ag District Overview

Montgomery County has long recognized the importance of agriculture. To place additional protection on our valuable agricultural lands, the first agricultural district was created in 1975 in Montgomery County. The County currently has 3 separate agricultural districts, which cover approximately 176,000 acres or about 2/3 of the County. These districts consist of viable agricultural lands, or, in other words, lands that are currently used for agriculture or may be used for agriculture in the future. Therefore, agricultural districts may include not just farm fields, but also residential, forested, and commercial properties.

ag dist tableThe agricultural districts are not permanent, but instead change through time. Every 8 years, the County reviews each district and the County Legislature decides whether to continue, terminate or modify the district. In the past, some districts have been merged together. Individual parcels are also added and removed from the districts during this 8-year review process, so the districts better reflect current land use. Finally, property owners may request to have their parcels added to an agricultural district during the Annual Review, which takes place from September 1st to September 30th in Montgomery County. The Annual Review is open to any of the agricultural districts in the County, so the districts may change even on a yearly basis.

Eight-Year Reviews

Agricultural Districts are reviewed by the County and re-certified by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets every eight years. During the review, landowners can decide if they want their property to remain in the District, or be removed or added. Owners of property within the Agricultural District will receive a mailed written notice of review.

Agricultural districts are reviewed by the County and re-certified by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for agricultural viability every eight years. During the review process landowners can elect to have their land remain in the district, remove their land from the district, or add land to the district. Please note that while land can be added to an agricultural district each year through the annual additions process, land can only be removed through the eight-year review process. Landowners who want their land to remain in an agricultural district do not need to take any action during the eight-year review.

After the open period ends, the County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board will review the requests and prepare a report that is submitted to the County Legislature for their consideration. The Legislature will then hold a public hearing to receive feedback on the requested modifications, if any. Once the County Legislature has approved of the changes, the report is finalized and sent to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for re-certification of the District. This process typically takes eight to ten months.

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Annual Additions

Landowners can request to have their property added to an Agricultural District during the County’s Annual Additions open enrollment. Property can only be removed from an Agricultural District during the eight-year review and certification process described above.

The Montgomery County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board announces that the next annual open enrollment period for the addition of viable agricultural lands into Montgomery County Agricultural Districts will take place September 1- 30, 2017. Note that property can only be removed from an Agricultural District during the District’s eight-year review.

Agricultural Districts are intended to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. Enrollment of viable agricultural lands into a State certified Agricultural District provides protection of accepted agricultural practices through New York State Agricultural Districts Law. Viable agricultural land is land highly suitable for, or currently used for, agricultural production.

For more information contact:

Montgomery County Business Development Center                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             518-853-8334                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                abearcroft@co.montgomery.ny.us

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the agricultural district impact taxes?
No. The agricultural districts do not affect your taxes. Agricultural lands may qualify for a tax break through the agricultural value assessments program. Though agricultural value assessments and agricultural districts are governed by the same law, the process is completely independent. Your taxes are based on the current land use and are determined by your assessor independent of the agricultural district. Your taxes will not automatically increase if your property is removed from the district nor will your taxes decrease for being in the district.

Is the agricultural district part of zoning?
No. The agricultural district is not the same as zoning. The agricultural district does not affect your property class.

Does the agricultural district restrict me from doing certain things on my land?
No. The agricultural district does not put any restrictions on what you can do to the land. They do not prevent you from developing your land into residential or commercial uses in the future.  Their main goal is to provide protections for current and potential agricultural lands and to encourage agriculture to continue. You may build new structures on land in the agricultural district, following the same process as lands outside of the agricultural district.

If my property is not in an agricultural district, what district am I in?
Think of agricultural districts as a layer, overlaid on zoning and other planning tools. If your property is not in an agricultural district, then it is simply just not part of the district. It is not added to another layer.

Do agricultural districts prohibit selling land?
No. Being in an agricultural district does not prohibit the selling of land. The ADL does not restrict the transfer of real property. The ADL does provide for a real estate transfer disclosure by the seller to the prospective purchaser. The disclosure states that the property is located within an agricultural district and that farming activities including noise, dust, and odors occur within the district. Prospective residents are also informed that the location of the property within an agricultural district may impact the ability to access water and/or sewer services.

If my land is in an agricultural district, do I automatically receive its benefits?
No. Only land considered by the State to be a “Farm Operation” (see definition below) receives the benefits.
“Farm operation” means the land and on-farm buildings, equipment, manure processing and handling facilities, and practices which contribute to the production, preparation and marketing of crops, livestock and livestock products as a commercial enterprise, including a “commercial horse boarding operation” as defined in subdivision thirteen of this section, a “timber operation” as defined in subdivision fourteen of this section and “compost, mulch or other biomass crops” as defined in subdivision sixteen of this section and ”commercial equine operation” as defined in subdivision seventeen of this section. Such farm operation may consist of one or more parcels of owned or rented land, which parcels may be contiguous or non-contiguous to each other.

Where can I find out if my property is in an agricultural district?
Right now, you will have to call Montgomery County Business Development Center to determine if you are in an agricultural district or you may visit the NYS Ag and Markets website to see a general agricultural district map.

What is an agricultural district?
A geographic area which consists predominantly of viable agricultural land. Agricultural operations within the district are the priority land use and afforded benefits and protections to promote the continuation of farming and the preservation of agricultural land.  In practice, districts may include land that is actively farmed, idle, forested, as well as residential and commercial.

What is an agricultural district review?
Districts are usually reviewed, or renewed, every 8 years. The County Legislature, after receiving the County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board report and recommendations, and after a public hearing, determines whether the district shall be continued, terminated, or modified. During the review process, land may be added or deleted from the district.

Counties are also required to designate an annual 30-day period when landowners may petition the County for inclusion of viable agricultural lands in an existing agricultural district. In Montgomery County, the annual review takes place from September 1st to September 30th each year. You can find an application here.

Do non-farming residents benefit from agricultural districts?
Everyone benefits. Besides its value for the production of food, agricultural land provides many environmental benefits including groundwater recharge, open space, and scenic view sheds.  Agriculture benefits local economies too, by providing on-farm jobs and supporting agribusinesses. Agricultural land requires less public services than developed land and results in cost savings for local communities.

Does an agricultural district guarantee a farmer’s “right to farm”?
The ADL protects farm operations within an agricultural district from the enactment and administration of unreasonably restrictive local regulations unless it can be shown that public health or safety is threatened. The Department evaluates the reasonableness of a specific requirement or process imposed on a farm operation on a case-by-case basis. The Commissioner may institute an action or compel a municipality to comply with this provision of the ADL.

Do agricultural districts consist entirely of farmland?
Districts must consist predominantly of viable agricultural land. Predominance has been interpreted as more than 50 percent of land in farms, but most districts have a higher percentage. The benefits and protections under the ADL, however, apply only to farm operations and land used in agricultural production.

Does an agricultural district preserve farmland?
Agricultural districts do not preserve farmland in the sense that the use of land is restricted to agricultural production forever. Rather, districts provide benefits that help make and keep farming as a viable economic activity, thereby maintaining land in active agricultural use.

Do agricultural districts eliminate a municipality’s ability to control growth?
No. To the contrary, an agricultural district can be an effective tool in helping local governments to manage growth. The existence of a district, for example, can help direct development away from traditional farming areas.

Can government acquire or condemn farmland within an agricultural district against a landowner’s wishes?
The ADL does not supersede a government’s right to acquire land for essential public facilities like roads or landfills. However, the ADL provides a process which requires a full evaluation of the effects of government acquisitions on the retention and enhancement of agriculture and agricultural resources within a district.

Who bears the cost of the agricultural assessment benefit?
Property taxes saved by farmers as a result of agricultural assessments must ultimately be made up by all taxpayers in the affected municipality. Farmers, as other homeowners, must bear their fair share of any tax shift since their residences are not subject to an agricultural assessment.