Long Island must continue to preserve open spaces and aid farmers if agriculture is to remain a vital contributor to the local economy, the state comptroller said Tuesday.
Speaking at a family farm in Melville, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the amount of land under cultivation in Nassau and Suffolk counties has held steady in recent years; it was 35,690 acres in 2007, the most recent data. Between 1950 and 1992, farmland acreage fell from 150,680 to 37,243.
Suffolk today is home to most of the Island's 644 farms, accounting for 94 percent of production, according to a report issued by DiNapoli Tuesday. He lauded Suffolk's preservation program, which has protected more than 10,000 acres of farmland by purchasing development rights over the past 38 years.
"We should be vigilant in preserving the farmland that we have and help those who are the leaders in this industry," DiNapoli said during a visit to White Post Farms in Melville.
Farms and fisheries on Long Island turned out $259 million in products in 2007, a 23.5 percent increase from 2002. Three-fourths of this was flowers, sod and other items grown in greenhouses and nurseries for landscapers.
Suffolk grew more pumpkins, tomatoes and cauliflowers than any other New York county. It was the No. 3 producer of strawberries, peaches and grapes. Sale statistics do not include wine production, which is substantial on the East End.
The value of all products grown in Suffolk was $243 million, the highest of any New York county.
Frank Beyrodt Jr., president of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said local farmers are uncomplaining about obstacles: "Farmers can endure, we will endure." Beyrodt's East Northport-based DeLea Sod Farms is a third-generation family-owned supplier of turf to golf courses and baseball fields.
At White Post Farms, Ron Brigati Jr. and his siblings have expanded the fourth-generation business to include a petting zoo, breads, festivals and meals. He said, "We try to offer something for everyone."