The purpose of the New York State Certified Agricultural District Program is to encourage the use of land for farming. It affords legal protections and some tax benefits for viable agricultural land. To be considered viable, tax parcels can have an active farm, but they can also have agricultural operations early in the planning stages. Land that helps keep the region’s agricultural industry viable, even if there are no plans to farm it, can be eligible for inclusion into an agricultural district, too. There are no property size or gross sales requirements. For 2020, Ulster County property owners can apply to have tax parcels included into an agricultural district from March 2 through 30. Applications will be available on the Ulster County Planning Department website in late February.
Ulster County has four agricultural districts. Agricultural District #1 covers southeastern Ulster County, mostly towns along the Hudson River that have traditionally been home to many of the region’s apple orchards. Agricultural District #2 covers the Wallkill River Valley in the central and southern portions of the County and is by far the largest of the four. Agricultural District #3 covers the western portion of the County with much of it centered along Route 209 and a variety of agricultural businesses. Agricultural District #4 covers Ulster County’s northern third and is an area with both sparsely settled mountains and densely populated valleys. These agricultural districts are reviewed every eight years by Ulster County to determine which parcels should be removed.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has its own digital map of Ulster County's agricultural districts.
Frequently Asked Questions
(adapted from the Wyoming County, NY Soil and Water District webpage)
• Does the agricultural district impact taxes?
• Is the agricultural district part of zoning?
• Does the agricultural district restrict me from doing certain things on my land?
• If my property is not in an agricultural district, what district am I in?
• Do agricultural districts prohibit selling land?
• If my land is in an agricultural district, do I automatically receive its benefits?
• Where can I find out if my property is in an agricultural district?
• What is an agricultural district?
• What is an agricultural district review?
• Do non-farming residents benefit from agricultural districts?
• Does an agricultural district guarantee a farmer’s “right to farm”?
• Does an agricultural district preserve farmland?
• Can government acquire or condemn farmland within an agricultural district against a landowner’s wishes?
• Who bears the cost of the agricultural assessment benefit?
Does the agricultural district impact property taxes?
No. The agricultural districts do not affect your property taxes. Agricultural lands may qualify for a tax break through the agricultural value assessment 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.
Tax benefits can occur in a few ways. Land already with an agricultural value assessment - land with a property tax break because a farm meets sales and size requirements - can have this assessment for five years and convert to a non-agricultural use without incurring a penalty, as opposed to having to reach the normal eight years. Also, land in agricultural production and in an agricultural district cannot have benefit assessments, special ad valorem levies, or other rates and fees for financing improvements such as water, sewer or non-farm drainage constructed on it, unless such changes were already imposed prior to the land being in an agricultural district.
Is the agricultural district part of zoning?
No. The agricultural district is not the same as zoning. Zoning is local land use regulations. Land in a certified agricultural district is in a New York State program to encourage the use of land for farming. Officially, land in an agricultural district is in a New York State Certified Agricultural District.
Does the agricultural district restrict me from doing certain things on my land?
No. The agricultural district doesn't put any restrictions on what you can do to the land. It does not prevent you from developing your land into residential or commercial uses in the future. Its 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. New York State Agricultural District Law (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 if the property is located within an agricultural district and if farming activities including noise, dust and odors occur within the district. Prospective residents are also informed if 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 noncontiguous to each other.
Where can I find out if my property is in an agricultural district?
Call the Ulster County Planning Department, the Ulster County Real Property Tax Agency or the tax assessor for the town that has your property.
What is an agricultural district?
It is a tax parcel or group of tax parcels which consists of predominantly 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 Ulster 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.
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 viewsheds. Agriculture benefits local economies too, by providing on-farm jobs and supporting agribusiness. Agricultural land requires fewer 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 New York State Agricultural District Law 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 New York State Agricultural District Law.
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.
Can government acquire or condemn farmland within an agricultural district against a landowner’s wishes?
The New York State Agricultural District Law (ADL) does not supersede a local government’s right to acquire land for essential public facilities like roads. 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. However, farmers, as with other homeowners, must bear their fair share, since their residences are not subject to an agricultural assessment.