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Suffolk County: Ranks First In State For Sales Of Non-Dairy Products

Farmers thrive with agriculture in Suffolk County. (Photo: Eileen Casey)

According to the Peconic Land Trust, there are over 19,000 acres of protected farmland in Suffolk County. With the hard work and adaptability of local farmers, Suffolk County was recently ranked first in the State of New York for total sales of non-dairy products.

So what has contributed to this distinction...diversity! Aquaculture sales with the on-going emergence of more oyster and bay scallop farms, floriculture and nursery products, potatoes, corn, honey production, Christmas trees, wine, grapes, vegetables, pumpkins and fruit have all grown in production and purchases.

The American Farmland Trust reports that "There is $4.7 billion tourism industry connected with farm stands and vineyards on Long Island. Further, Suffolk County led the State in agricultural sales over the past few years as the top producer of floriculture, pumpkins and sod. The County's 76 wineries are mostly located on the East End and the Long Island Wine Council estimates that about 1.3 million tourists visit East End wineries annually."

Although milk is the largest agricultural product produced in New York State, the cost and competition among dairy farmers has proven to be a less than successful undertaking for many farmers in Suffolk County.

Further, Suffolk County.gov states, "Suffolk County is also the State's largest producer of pumpkins, tomatoes, and cauliflower, and the third largest producer of grapes, peaches and strawberries."

In their Executive Summary, it is noted "As part of an on-going effort to preserve agriculture in Suffolk County and stem the tide of residential and commercial development that threatens the availability of agricultural lands, Suffolk County Executive and Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning, received $50,000 in funding from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets to update the 1996 Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan."

"As part of the effort to update the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan, the Department of Economic Development & Planning conducted a survey in 2013 of agricultural producers in Suffolk County to accommodate a comprehensive geographic spectrum of Suffolk County farmers. Suffolk County still leads New York State in market value of crops produced, a distinction held since the previous Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan. Suffolk County is the top region in New York State for the sale of nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod products and Suffolk County accounted for half of all statewide sales in these products. The 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, the latest data available, reports that there are 585 farms remaining in Suffolk County, covering 34,404 acres. Over 10,000 of these acres have been protected in the Suffolk County Purchase of Development Rights Program."

In 2012, a new Farmlands Administrator within the Department of Economic Development & Planning, who acts "As a liaison between the County Executive's office and the agricultural industry" has helped craft legislation friendly to agricultural development. These efforts include the significant reforms to the Suffolk County Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. This important update brings the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation plan in-line with the practical, environmental, economic, and technological realities of current Suffolk County farming. Among the most pressing challenges identified by agricultural producers were 1) High Production Costs 2) High Fuel Costs 3) Availability of Farm Labor 4) Property Taxes 5) Extreme Weather Events/Climate Change. Environmental regulations, the prevalence of pests (deer, insects, birds, etc.), residential encroachment, and land use regulations (zoning) were also frequently cited.

Despite these challenges, Suffolk County farmers are cautiously optimistic. Additionally, Suffolk County farmers are increasingly familiar with government policies structured to assist farmers. They are also taking advantage of trends favoring increased agritourism and direct marketing opportunities."

Commenting on this distinction, Dan Heston, Senior Manager of Agricultural Programs at the Peconic Land Trust, relayed, "Long Island produces high quality agricultural products based on considered agricultural practices, access to quality soil and water, and a strong, local retail and wholesale market. Farmers on Long Island have learned to diversify and cultivate to meet the demands of the market. This diversity - from horticultural products, to grapes for wine, hops for beer and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, shellfish, and livestock - makes for a strong market over the long term."

Congratulations to Suffolk County!

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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