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Southold looks to broaden definitions of agricultural land

The Southold Town Board is proceeding with changes to the town code’s agricultural section in an effort to help farmers and agricultural businesses better manage their land.

Board members voted 6-0 at their regular meeting Tuesday to pass a proposal to clarify the definitions of agricultural terms in the town code to keep up with changes in modern farm operations.

Southold Agricultural Advisory Committee chairman Chris Baiz said the new definitions were designed to give agricultural industry workers a better idea of what kinds of actions they can take with their farmland. That clarity will help farmers create better business plans, officials said.

The town’s agricultural codes previously had just three definitions identifying farmland, which limited what actions could be taken or which crops could be grown, Baiz said.

One major goal of revising the agricultural definitions was to “level the playing fields for all crops” so farmers can eventually process crops on-site, much like vineyards making wine from grapes on their properties, said Baiz, a fourth-generation farmer in Southold.

“These expensive lands are no longer commodity crop lands,” he said. “They are totally specialty crop lands and must have value-added products that can come out of the operations in order to achieve the cash flows that you need to operate in this expensive area.”

The changes add several definitions, including specific designations for agriculture, farmhouses, farm operations, agricultural processing and agricultural production. The new definitions would be the first step toward being able to expand farmland use to agricultural business and on-site processing, which could generate more revenue, Baiz said.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell voted for the bill proposing the changes, but said the town needed to add “a whole bunch more” definitions.

“It’s very difficult to think that all of agriculture can be put under one umbrella,” he said.

The committee would start work next week on a proposal outlining how the definitions would be used in the permitting process, Baiz said.

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