An agricultural district is a geographic area which consists predominantly of viable agricultural land. Agricultural operations within the district are afforded benefits and protections to promote the continuation of farms and the preservation of agricultural land. The benefits include limits to local regulation, limits to publicly funded construction and eminent domain projects, and discouragement of private nuisance lawsuits. Agricultural districts are not zoning districts and are separate from the agricultural assessment program. Learn more about NYS Agriculture Districts Program.
Section 305-a of the Agricultural Districts Law protects farmers against local laws which unreasonably restrict farm operations located within an agricultural district. Department staff review both existing and proposed laws to determine if they are compatible with farm operations. In cases where a local law is determined to be unreasonable, staff work with the local government concerned to develop mutually acceptable modifications. If a local government is unwilling to modify a restrictive law, the Department is authorized to take action to compel compliance with the Agricultural Districts Law. The New York State Court of Appeals has consistently ruled that these orders are entitled to administrative deference in the interpretation and administration of this important right to farm protection.
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Agricultural Districts Misconceptions
- Certain practices are extended to Farm Operations (FOs) enrolled in an Ag. District, including: open burning, hours of operation, and certain commercial activities
- Farmers must follow all local laws including notification to Towns, but FOs may benefit from streamlined fee schedules and local review.
- Unless found to be unreasonably restrictive, FOs must adhere to local zoning and regulations.
- Ag. districts are not the same as zoning. Zoning is a local land use regulation. Land in a certified agricultural district is in a New York State program to encourage the use of land for farming.
- Enrollment in an ag. district does not change the underlying zoning district.
- Local agricultural zoning may allow for growth-inducing land uses.
- Agriculture & Markets Law does include an right-to-farm provision requiring the resolution of disputes regarding farm practices on Farm Operations within ag. districts. These provision are only applicable to land in ag. districts.
- Municipalities can enact their out right-to-farm laws. Local right-to-farm laws set forth a process to mediate complaints by non-farm neighbors about farming operations and practices at the local level. Applicable farmers engaged in reasonable agriculture practices.
- Precedent has been set on local regulations that are considered restrictive on their face. Enactment of such regulations should be avoided.
- Otherwise, a farm operation in an ag. district may request a 305-a review but is not exempt from local zoning.
- Unless found to be unreasonably restrictive, farm operations must adhere to local zoning and regulations.
- The land in an ag. district is not restricted to agricultural production.
- Ag. districts provide benefits that help make and keep farming as a viable economic activity, thereby maintaining land in active agricultural use.
Tip: Farmers interested in permanent land conservation should contact the Western New York Land Conservancy at 716-687-1225 or email@example.com
- Agriculture & Markets Law requires a real estate transfer disclosure during sale, but does not restrict the transfer of real property.
- Disclosure includes notice that the property is located within an ag. district and that farming activities include noise, dust, and odors.
- Also included notice that the location of the property within an ag. district may impact the ability access to water and/or sewer services.
- Land can be enrolled in an Ag. district and not receive an ag. assessment.
- Land can receive an ag. assessment and not be enrolled in an ag. district.
- To receive an ag. assessment:
- land must have been used in the preceding two years for the production or sale of crops, livestock, or livestock products; and
- Land must remain in agricultural use for eight years or be subject to a payment for conversion to non-agricultural uses; and
- Land must be seven or more acres, and farm operation must $10,000/year average annual gross sales; or
- Land may be less than seven aces, if farm operations has $50,000/year in average annual gross sales.