According to weather forecasts, crops in the southwestern Midwest will continue to bake as the region endures the most severe drought in decades. Corn and soybean crops have been especially hard hit, which will cause prices for food, including corn products, beef, chicken and dairy products, to temporarily spike.
As a result, farmers in the Hudson Valley region may experience an economic boom this year as their crops sell for record prices. This temporary economic benefit is in addition to the growing local food economy. A recent article in the New York Times states that “the movement toward local food is creating a vibrant new economic laboratory for American agriculture,” which in turn fosters "more stable, predictable and measurable [local farm sales]." PR Newswire reports that Jerry Cosgrove, Associate Director of the Local Economies Project and a local foods expert in the Hudson Valley, agrees with the New York Times article’s focus on “the fact that local food production is a great way to strengthen local economies.”In fact, the local food industry banked in at $4.8 billion back in 2008, a number that is sure to keep growing despite the poor economic climate.
Economics aside, the drought reaffirms the need to support local agriculture to assure the continued availability of local food sources. Local farmer's markets provide access to corn and other crops that may not be readily available in other parts of the country.
A quick review of available zoning laws reveals that nearly every community in Dutchess County allows agriculture as a permitted use. However, communities can do more to encourage the continued growth of agriculture through zoning. For example, the Town of Red Hook has recently created the “Agricultural Business District” to support farming operations and related industries while discouraging residential development projects which often fragment important farmlands and result in conflicts between agricultural and residential uses. Many uses that support agriculture, such as wineries, distilleries, cold storage facilities, farm equipment repair and agritourism uses are permitted and subject to a streamlined review process.
Other methods that communities can use to support agriculture include purchasing development rights, requiring new residential devlopment to provide a buffer around existing farms, permitting roadside stands in every district, and using an average density, rather than a minimum lot size, which allows for greater protection of open space. More information on supporting farming with zoning can be found on the American Farmland Trust website.