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Farmland Protection: Ag Districts vs. Assessments

Agricultural Districts

Enacted in 1971, New York’s Agricultural Districts Law (ADL) is a very effective tool for maintaining lands in agriculture and ensuring New York’s position as an outstanding agricultural state. 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. Agricultural Districts Law seeks to create economic and regulatory incentives that encourage farmers to continue farming. The ADL has two basic components, agricultural assessments for taxes and agricultural district creation and review.

The first agricultural district was in Sullivan County was established in 1975. The County currently has two agricultural districts, which cover approximately 250,000 acres. Agricultural District # encompasses the towns of Bethel, Callicoon, Cochecton, Delaware, Forestburgh, Fremont, Liberty, Thompson and Tusten. Agricultural District #4 encompasses the towns of Bethel, Fallsburg, Forestburgh, Highland, Liberty, Mamakating, Neversink, Rockland, Thompson.

Ag 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. Agricultural districts may include not just farm fields, but also residential, forested and commercial properties that are part of an agricultural enterprise.

Agricultural districts are not permanent but instead change through time. Every year, from April 1st to April 30th, Sullivan County accepts applications from property owners who would like some or all of their land added to an agricultural district. 

Agricultural District #1 Eight Year Review

Agricultural districts are reviewed by the County and recertified 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 request to add land to the district. Please note that while land can be added to an agricultural district each year through the annual 30 day window review 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. The process is generally as follows:

Landowners with land currently enrolled in the district to be renewed will be mailed a letter informing them of the review, and a removal/addition request form.

If you would like to remove any properties or add properties, complete and return the form by the date specified, April 30, 2021.

If you do not wish to make any changes, and want your listed properties to remain enrolled in the district, you do not need to return the form.

If you believe you own enrolled land in the district, but did not receive a form and would like to make changes, please use the blank removal and addition form available on this page (below) during the renewal period.

If you have no enrolled lands, but wish to add land to the district, please use the blank removal and addition form (below) available on this page during the renewal period.

Once the open period ends, the Sullivan 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. The public hearing will take place sometime in July. .  For more information on the Eight Year Review and the future public hearing date visit the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Community Website at https://sullivanny.us/Departments/PlanningEnvironmental/AgriculturalDistricts

Upon County Legislature approval, the report is finalized and sent to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for recertification of the District. Upon completion of the state recertification, those requesting additions or removals will be notified of approved or denied changes. This entire process typically takes eight to twelve months.

Agriculture Value Assessments

The agricultural assessment program allows eligible farmland located both within and outside agricultural districts to be taxed at its agricultural assessment, rather than at its fair market value. The agricultural assessment value establishes an “upper limit” for taxable assessments on eligible farmland. Any assessed value which exceeds the equalized agricultural assessment on the land may qualify for a reduced tax assessment. Landowners must apply to their local town assessor annually for an agricultural assessment.

To qualify for an agricultural assessment, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Own at least seven acres of land which produces a minimum of $10,000 annually, or own less than seven acres of land which produces a minimum of $50,000 annually, on average, in the preceding two years from the sale of crops, livestock, or livestock products.
  2. Have a start-up farm operation in the first year of operation on owned or rented land that meets the minimum acreage and sales thresholds.
  3. Own rented land if the land independently satisfies the minimum acreage and sales requirements (see above) or is being used pursuant to a lease agreement of five or more years in conjunction with land which independently qualifies (in other words, if the operation leasing the land meets the acreage and sales requirements).

For more detailed information on Ag Value Assessments, please click here to visit the NYS Department of Taxation & Finance for an overview of the rules or contact your local assessor for more detailed information on qualifying for the agricultural assessments.

NOTE: Owners who convert lands benefiting from an agricultural assessment to non-farm use are liable for conversion payments based on the amount of taxes saved. Owners contemplating a conversion may determine the payment owed by contacting their assessor or the Sullivan County Real Property Tax Services.

Remember: Applications for Agricultural Assessments are due March 1 each year, so please plan accordingly.

If you think you qualify for an agricultural assessment, the first step is to get a Soil Group Worksheet made. Contact the Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District at 845-292-6552 or Sullivan County Soil & Water Conservation District Site The cost is $35.00 per parcel for a new worksheet and $15.00 per parcel for a revised worksheet. A soil group worksheet lists how many acres of each type of soil you have on your property. Your assessor will use this worksheet, along with the rest of your application, to help determine your assessment.

You have to apply for the Agricultural Assessment each year. However, you do not need a Soil Group Worksheet made every year. You will need a Soil Group Worksheet made if:

  • This is the first time you are applying for the Agricultural Assessment
  • The owner of the parcel changes
  • The dimensions of the parcel changes
  • The amount of land used for agricultural production changes
  • The amount of land used for agricultural production changes

Other Requirements

Please contact your local assessor to determine what other documents are necessary to apply for the Agricultural Assessment. For more information on the current Agricultural Assessment Values visit the NYS Agriculture and Markets website.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Agricultural Exemptions visit the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance website.

Download the NYS Ag & Markets Agriculture Assessment Brochure.

To learn more about Agricultural Exemptions read the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance Farm Building Exemptions” Brochure.

Contact

Melinda Meddaugh
Agriculture & Food Systems Issue Leader
mm2592@cornell.edu
(845) 292-6180 Ext. 116

Last updated July 21, 2021