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mailmanLand in rural Lansing is the best investment a farmer can make, but for the landowners who rent to them, it's turned out to be the worst.

Why? Because the Town of Lansing decided to make it that way.

In the opinion of Cornell Cooperative Extension, who wrote Lansing's Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan: "nobody but farmers deserve to live in north Lansing." This position was the guide for the Ag Plan and for every subsequent decision that the Town has made concerning rural Lansing.

Tompkins County's 2015 Comprehensive Plan states: "In rural areas the Plan envisions a working landscape of farms and forests." In the County's vision of the future, the "non-farming" rural community will longer exist.

With this as a backdrop, the "plans" continued to unfold.

Politicians, Cornell Cooperative Extension and a handful of farmers excluded 95% of the rural residents from any participation and unilaterally decided that most of north Lansing should be designated as an Agricultural Zone and run exclusively for the benefit of agricultural interests.

It was just decided, and that was that.

I was in attendance at the Ag Committee meeting where a farmer first announced that a landowner who had previously rented to him had signed a lease with a solar farm. Quicker than you could say "Yes sir!" the Town of Lansing decided that solar farms were a bad thing if located on land that was rented to farmers. The needs and the rights of the actual landowner were not considered of any importance whatsoever.

Industrial farming methods allow corporate farms to grow in size and revenues forever . . . as long as they can obtain more land. Their deep pockets have driven up land prices and that, along with the County's agricultural assessment policies and the lack of "farmer only" tax breaks, has put many landowners who rent to farmers in the position of losing money every year, and with no other option but to sell — until solar farms came along.

Solar farms are willing to pay considerably more rent than farmers [my farm rental revenue is only $75 per acre/per year] and allow rural landowners to hold onto their own land. This presents a danger to industrial farm expansion and is the reason for the Town's proposal to limit solar energy projects.

What are these "Prime Agricultural Soils" that the law's proponents brandish like a weapon?

It's a misrepresentation. Prime Agricultural Soils are defined as "soils that are suitable for most kinds of farming."

The term "Prime Agricultural Soils" is used because sounds good, but it's a designation left over from fieldwork in the early 1960s. More than a half century has seen unimagined changes in farming methods and the quality of those soils. Erosion to fields through lack of ground cover has removed important minerals that take thousands of years to build up and cannot be replaced merely by spreading organic nutrients. Liquid manure has percolated layer after layer of growth hormones, heavy metals, antimicrobials, antibiotics [and of course, antibiotic-resistant pathogens] into these soils. Powerful herbicides and pesticides are used to wipe the earth clean to where only compatible GMO crops can flourish.

Organic farming is prohibited on these soils, even years after all industrial farming has ceased. And any organic farming done in permissible soils nearby must provide a buffer strip to prevent contamination. Most of the actively farmed land in north Lansing is no longer "prime agricultural soil" by the criteria established in the 1960s survey, and the percentage under industrial farming is continually increasing.

Solar arrays can be put up and taken down, and the protocols for recycling panels are already in place — how does Mr. Wetmore propose to clean the toxicity of industrial farming from Lansing's rural soils?

Can any argument or questioning stop the Town's decision to pass this solar law? Probably not. But I hope to disabuse some readers from the belief that this proposed solar law is about the environment, prime soils, or even protecting Lansing's farmlands.

In Tompkins County these days, it's all about money and power as the biggest interests maneuver for their cut.

Doug Baird
Lansing, NY
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