Farmers Supporting Farmers
Conservation Provides a new purpose and peace of mind
JOHN BETTS IS A FAMILIAR FACE and name to many in the agricultural community of Rensselaer and Washington counties. If you operate a farm, there’s a good chance you bought fertilizer or tractor parts from him over the years. Or, if you’re of a certain age, he might have been your ag or driver’s ed teacher at Hoosick Falls Central School. More recently and—if things go Betts’ way—in the future, you might be talking with him about leasing prime farmland.
A second chance—and a second approach—to living off the land
In 2021, John Betts signed a conservation easement with ASA to protect 336 acres of the Nelson B. Betts Jr. & Sons Farm. First operated as a dairy farm from 1917 to 1974 when it transitioned to dairy support land, the Schaghticoke property is a combination of rolling hills, an orchard and nearly 200 acres of land in active agricultural production.
Thanks to the proceeds from selling their development rights, Betts and his nephews Richard and Stephen Betts, co-owners of the farm, were able to pay off 100% of the debt owed on the farm. Without that worry, he says, he has been able to be more creative in his thinking about what will happen with the property as he nears retirement.
“As a farmer, you make a lot of mistakes. By conserving the land, I’ve got the freedom to try again or, like me, try some new things; things I wouldn’t have ventured to do before because of debt,” he says.
At the top of his new to-do list is expanding and improving the production acreage.
“Right now, we lease some land to Millbrook Farm that allows them to grow the crops necessary to keep their milking operation running,” says Betts. “The plan is to work on improving more of the acreage and look to lease to other local dairy operations
that need land for crops. I’m open to working with them to create an arrangement that allows us to support each other.”
Betts’ improvement efforts thus far include installing drainage tiles and the purchase of equipment. He also has his eye on fixing up a number of buildings, including his own home, as well as tearing down a few structures. “I now have the freedom to do some improvements and repairs that were out of reach before.”
In addition, while Betts’ own children chose careers other than farming, working the family homestead remains an option for his grandchildren. “It skips a generation sometimes,” he says. “I like the fact that should one of the grandkids want to pursue farming, they can do it right here. If they decide that farming’s not for them, I’ll be happy to sell it to another farmer. And I might even let them in on what I learned from the mistakes I made.”