‘Grassland protection’ restriction could harm farmers’ abilities to mow, harvest hay

Mary Perham

Marcellus Shale drilling supporters want Steuben County to do something about a proposed environmental restriction they say will hurt farmers already struggling to make ends meet.

Dan Hubbard, president of the Steuben County Farm Bureau told members of the county Legislature’s Agriculture, Industry and Planning Committee this week a recent addition to the state’s environmental requirements is unnecessary.

The public comment period ended Wednesday on drilling natural gas in the Marcellus Shale located across the western section of the state.

Hubbard said the “grassland protection” section added to the state Department of Environmental Conservation will limit where and how often they can harvest hay growing near drilling pads used for hydrofracking.

The grassland protection could prevent farmers from mowing grassland fields larger than 30 acres to once a year and prohibit mowing between April 23 and Aug. 15.

In the past the state reimbursed farmers willing to leave portions of their grasslands unplowed, but that option no longer exists, Hubbard said.

The best way to avoid the DEC restriction would be for farmers not to lease their grassland areas to drilling companies, he said.

But that means farmers lose income from leases or income from selling their hay, Hubbard said.

The grassland study also requires a year-long study before a drill pad may be built, followed by two years of study to ensure the bird habitat is not affected, according to Neil Vitale, a member of the Steuben County Landowners Coalition.

That requirement also prevents farmers from harvesting hay – which is essential both for feeding livestock and selling to other farmers, Vitale said.

The committee said they would forward the information, and a statement prepared by SCLOC spokesman Jeff Heller to the county’s special Task Force on drilling.

AIP Committee Chairman Legislator Tom Ryan, R-Canisteo said the legislature would act on the advice of the task force.