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Ritchie co-sponsors agricultural land reclamation credit legislation

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State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is co-sponsor of a bill that offers a financial incentive program for farmland reclamation similar to what is being discussed by the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators.

The bill would establish income tax credits for improving farm and forest land so the acreage can be used for crops, including those used for energy production.

The proposed credit would be 25 percent of eligible expenses, up to $50,000, to farmland entitled to an agricultural assessment or forestland entitled to a forest assessment.

“I think this is a great initiative,” said Mrs. Ritchie, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We’re looking for ways to get more people in farming.”

The county board, at the suggestion of the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board and the county Soil & Water Conservation District, has begun talking about a model resolution that would request state passage of an ag property tax exemption to reward those who restore farmland to useful purpose.

The bill under consideration by the Senate uses an income tax credit as the incentive to avoid obstacles that could arise if the burden of offering a financial break is seen to fall on other property owners, Mrs. Ritchie said.

The proposed legislation was news to Robert G. Andrews, chairman of the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board and of the Soil & Water Conservation District, but exceeds the goals of those agencies.

“Wow, is that ever comprehensive,” Mr. Andrews said after a quick review of the bill. “It addresses food but also is for biomass. We didn’t even consider that. This would fit nicely.”

Mr. Andrews said his boards’ proposal was not tied to a property tax break or tax credit, but rather to any incentive that would encourage the return of more farmland to useful purpose.

“Our main goal was to start a dialog that we have a lot of land in St. Lawrence County that is under-utilized,” he said. “You have to start the conversation somewhere.”

The bill calls for a beginning date of Jan. 1, 2015.

“I call that ambitious,” Mr. Andrews said.

Mrs. Ritchie said she was hopeful the legislation would gain wide support, especially because of the interest in a “Young Farmers NY” initiative she announced earlier this month.

Provisions in that package of bills would include tax-deductible farm savings accounts; loans, grants and tax credits for the sale or lease of land and equipment; a $5 million young farmer revolving loan fund to provide startup financing; a competitive grant program for innovative projects, and more agriculture-related education.

Mrs. Ritchie said she is waiting to see if the farmland reclamation bill will have an Assembly sponsor.

“I’m really not sure why anyone would be against it,” she said.

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