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Farmers urge town to add word to agriculture definitions

Local farmers weighing in on Southold Town’s proposed agricultural definitions raised concerns that a few new terms could be too restrictive. But, they said, including one word, “primarily,” could make all the difference.

Southold Agriculture Advisory Committee chairman Chris Baiz noted during a public hearing on a resolution that would accept a set of new terms that the word “primarily” was left out of brand new definitions for agricultural processing, agricultural processing building and on-farm direct marketing building.

The terms relate to on-farm processing and sales of agricultural products “at and from a single farm operation,” but should say products “at and primarily from a single farm operation,” Mr. Baiz said.

“I think if we just got to that point where we understood that primarily means primarily — it’s the bulk of your product is coming off of your farm operation,” he said.

Following that, other farmers said they wanted the word to be added for concerned that their operations could be limited.

Norman “Sam” McCullough of Cutchogue said he fully supports the modernization of the definitions to keep up with how agriculture has evolved, but the terms need “tuning up.” The phrase “from a single farm operation” in the agricultural processing definitions would restrict farmers in the town who are not directly in the processing or marketing business, but sell their products wholesale to other farmers may process or retail, he said.

“Hence by doing this, if it’s strictly from a single operation, you’ll be closing that market to other farmers,” he said. “There are people around who grow sweet corn and sell it to other farm stands, grow strawberries and sell to other farm stands and so forth, and I don’t believe we should be limiting that.”

Adding “primarily” to those three definitions would solve that problem he said.

Jessica Anson, public policy director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said there is concern that if the terms are passed as written, the code would be “overly restrictive” and that the bureau also recommends “primarily” be added to make it more clear.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the issue is that current code does not include those definitions in the first place. The terms are being added with the intent of adding uses for farms that the code does not address, he said.

“We’re moving a line under the current code, but for wineries processing isn’t allowed, so we’re saying we’re going to allow it when we get into the uses, so that’s why we’re defining it,” Mr. Russell said. “I don’t know how that’s overly restrictive. It’s quite the opposite. It’s being more permissive.”

He said the new definitions don’t contradict what’s already taking place on farms in terms of processing, because the code doesn’t currently mention it. The definitions are there to make sure everyone’s speaking the same language, he said.

Oyster farmer Karen Rivara said it’s common practice for farmers in Southold to sell their products through another’s farm stand, as some aquaculture growers do, and that “single farm operation” could be unclear down the road.

“I’m just thinking in terms of someone who doesn’t work for the town now, somebody five years down the line and they have to look at a permit and they see the words ‘from a single farm operation’, they may say, ‘Well your farm doesn’t do aquaculture, so how is it that you’re selling aquaculture products at your farm operation because it isn’t your single farm,’ ” she said.

Local winemaker Adam Suprenant said change is essential, but the word “primarily” needs to be added to allow more flexibility for agricultural producers.

The definitions are “part one” to addressing agriculture in the town code, Mr. Baiz said at the start of the public hearing. Once vetted, the town will determine the permitted uses regulations that apply to the terms.

The definitions have been in the works for five years with input from the agriculture committee, town board and code committee, Mr. Baiz said. The definitions are included in the town’s zoning code, which out of 210 terms had only three relating to agriculture, he said.

The town board ultimately decided to table the vote to accept the definitions to take the public’s comments into consideration.

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Photo: Winemaker Adam Suprenant addresses the Southold Town Board on agricultural definitions Tuesday night. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)