Making a Dairy Farm Affordable in NY

Delapenta farmscapeDean Zapp, a third generation dairy farmer, and his wife Michele, wanted to protect the property where they operate Delapenta Farms — 83½ acres in Ancram, NY, in the central part of the Town of Taghkanic, in Columbia County — by adding conservation and affordability restrictions to their land, and to use proceeds from the sale of those restrictions to retire debt. Delapenta has been in operation since 1913, and Dean took over the family farm in 1974. The Zapps are beginning to transition to organic practices and to diversify the operation, adding beef production, to make the farm more sustainable.

“My wife and I have a deep commitment to continuing our family farm with the help of our sons and daughters,” says Dean. “We want to make our farm more environmentally friendly, implement new technologies and techniques, and most importantly, we want to ensure that our beautiful farmland will remain available for farming for future generations.” In the summer of 2015, Equity Trust’s Hudson Valley Farm Affordability Program helped make that happen by joining an in-process conservation effort and enhancing it with an innovative perpetual affordability component.

The Zapps had been working with Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) since 2008 to restrict future building on site through the sale of development rights, and this year Scenic Hudson provided funds for the purchase of a conservation easement, which will be held by CLC. Simultaneously, Equity Trust’s Hudson Valley Farmland Affordability Program purchased a pre-emptive purchase right (PPR) on the farmland that gives CLC the ability to ensure that all future sales of the land will be to farmers at agricultural value.

Inclusion of a resale restriction in the easement ensures not only that the land will remain in active agriculture through any future sales, but also that subsequent generations of farmers will be able to afford the purchase price through earnings from farm operations. Equity Trust worked closely with Scenic Hudson and CLC to develop this provision, until now rarely used in New York State easements, in a form satisfactory to all parties. It is the first affordability restriction to be held by Columbia Land Conservancy and one of the first in New York State. Such restrictions have been used in Massachusetts and Vermont to protect the long-term affordability of farmland, and one of the goals of Equity Trust’s Hudson Valley Program is to promote their use in New York.

By selling the PPR, the Zapps not only ensured their farm’s permanent availability for agricultural use, but also provided long-term stability for their own business. Funds from the conservation easement and PPR will support the family’s plans to transition to an all-organic operation and enable them to update dairy infrastructure and invest in on-farm processing of their milk for direct sale to local and regional consumers.

At their current scale, the farm operates on 600 acres, including the 83½ acres protected through this project. The Zapps’ dairy herd consists of Holstein, Jersey Holstein, and Jersey cows. They currently provide milk to the Northeast Dairy Producers Association and once they have completed their transition to organic, they plan to market their dairy products through Organic Valley (CROPP Coop), which they anticipate will bring a better price.

In 2016, the Zapps’ dairy operation, called Tuganook Hill Farm, received a loan from the Equity Trust Fund to enlarge their herd.

Read more:

Press release

Daily Freeman article, August 23, 2015: Groups combine to protect Delapenta Farm

Mid Hudson News, August 24, 2015: Groups protect over 80 acres of Taghkanic farmland