PLATTSBURGH -- A controversial agricultural program has sparked a debate amongst some Clinton County legislators.

The Farmland Protection Program gives rural farmers cash in exchange for agreeing to keep their land used for farming forever.

The goal of the program is to prevent the sale and development of valuable farmland.

In past years, local farms have been given millions of dollars to keep their land in farming, prompting some objections.

Three farms in the county have applied for the program this year: B&R Dairy in Chazy, the farm of Michael and Irene Tetrault in Champlain and the farm of Joe and Jana Garrant, also in Champlain.

If approved, they would receive a total of about $1.3 million from the state, minus about 30 percent in matching funds and other costs.

The B&R Dairy would get about $475,000 after costs; the Tetraults, about $280,000; and the Garrants, about $140,000.

Legislator Keith Defayette (R-Area 5, Schuyler Falls) questioned the wisdom of the program, given the state's bleak financial picture.

"The state is broke. This is crazy," he said. "We're facing a deficit of billions of dollars, and they are going to give away millions to farmers that are just going to continue to do what they do anyway."

Defayette said he understands the value of farmland, but the state should consider suspending the program until its finances improve.

But Legislators John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) and Jackie Walker (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) disagreed.

"It is shortsighted not to protect these desirable parcels," Gallagher said. "This money spent now will save the state money in the long run."

Walker said farmland makes the county special.

"We need to protect against urban sprawl, or we will lose what we have in the county."

The state will make a decision in the next four to eight months on whether the three farms applying for the program are approved.

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