|2001 New Jersey Agriculture Annual Report|
The State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC), chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, administers New Jersey's Farmland Preservation Program and promotes innovative approaches to maintaining the viability of agriculture. It administers the Right to Farm Program, staffs the Transfer of Development Rights Bank and operates the Farm Link Program.
FARMLAND PRESERVATION PROGRAM
As the result of increased funding under the Garden State Preservation Trust Act, the SADC expanded farmland preservation efforts into new urban and suburban areas of the state. A record-setting 126 farms covering 14,006 acres were permanently preserved under the Farmland Preservation Program in FY01, surpassing the previous record of 82 farms covering 11,648 acres set the year before. As of June 30, 2001, a total of 582 farms covering 80,381 acres had been permanently preserved.
Most farms are preserved through purchase of development easements from landowners. Although they sell the easements, and thereby give up the right to use the land for anything other than agricultural purposes, they continue to own and pay taxes on the land. Traditionally, most landowners have sold their easements to their counties which, in turn, apply to the SADC for grants covering 60-80 percent of the cost of the development easements.
In September 2000, the SADC approved the preservation of 40 farms totaling 3,306 acres in the second of two county funding rounds held in that calendar year. In June 2001, the SADC approved grants to counties to help preserve an additional 98 farms totaling 8,475 acres, including the 218-acre Sun Valley Farm in Mahwah Township, the first Bergen County farm approved under the Farmland Preservation Program.
The Garden State Preservation Trust Act authorized the SADC to establish a number of new programs, which were fully implemented in FY01. Newly enabled to purchase development easements directly from landowners, the SADC approved the purchase of development rights on 25 farms totaling 2,097 acres in September 2000.
Responding to a continued high demand for the new direct easement purchase program, the SADC subsequently approved the direct purchase of development easements on 132 farms covering approximately 12,700 acres statewide.
The Garden State Preservation Trust Act also authorized the SADC to award up to 50 percent cost-sharing grants to non-profit organizations that preserve farmland. As a result, the SADC approved grants to assist five non-profit organizations in the preservation of 13 farms totaling 1,735 acres.
Municipalities and counties seeking to preserve large, contiguous blocks of farmland are turning increasingly to another new program, the planning incentive grant program. This program helps towns and counties preserve farmland in designated project areas.
In May 2001, the SADC awarded the first grant under this program to Monmouth County to assist in the preservation of 240 acres of farmland in Roosevelt Borough and Millstone Township. The SADC granted preliminary approval to another 25 applications in FY01, representing 463 farms and 24,359 acres. In the two years since the establishment of the planning incentive grant program, counties and municipalities have submitted a total of 43 applications to preserve up to 856 farms totaling more than 50,000 acres. At the close of the fiscal year, planning incentive grants were active in 25 municipalities and seven counties.
Purchasing farms outright --rather than buying only the development easements --is another important way the SADC can preserve farmland. Through direct purchase from willing owners, the SADC saves those farms in the most imminent danger of being sold for development. Once the SADC purchases a farm, it deed-restricts the land to ensure that it will always be available for farming, then re-sells the preserved farmland through public auction back into private ownership. The SADC directly purchased six farms totaling more than 730 acres during FY01.
The 276-acre Strang Farm in Alloway and Mannington Townships, Salem County, purchased directly by the SADC in FY00, was auctioned to private owners in FY01. The property includes a house circa 1864 named by Preservation New Jersey as one of the ten most endangered historic sites in the state. In a landmark "first" for the Farmland Preservation Program, the property was auctioned with deed restrictions that preserve both the agricultural and historic value of the farm.
A total of 1,653 acres of state-owned lands were permanently preserved through the conveyance of development rights to the SADC in FY01. The 571-acre Jamesburg Farm in Monroe Township, Middlesex County, and the 1,082-acre Bayside State Prison lands in Maurice River Township, Cumberland County, were entered into the Farmland Preservation Program as a result of these transfers.
EIGHT-YEAR PRESERVATION PROGRAM
Farmland owners may choose to restrict development on their land for a period of eight years. Although they do not receive any compensation for this temporary restriction, participation in the eight-year program makes them eligible for certain regulatory benefits and enables them to apply for cost-sharing grants for up to 50 percent of the cost of soil and water conservation projects on farms.
In FY01, the SADC approved 27 new farms totaling 1,435 acres for entry into the eight-year program and six farms totaling 273 acres for renewals. At year's end, a total of 394 farms covering 30,425 acres were protected through the eight-year preservation program.
The Garden State Preservation Trust Act, which was signed into law in 1999, dramatically increased funding for farmland preservation. In FY01, for the second consecutive year the Garden State Preservation Trust approved $80 million in new funding for farmland preservation projects.
In June the SADC also received a $765,600 federal grant to assist New Jersey in its farmland preservation efforts. The grant from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service was the third highest in the nation and was the fourth grant awarded to New Jersey through the USDA's Farmland Protection Program. Previous federal grants to New Jersey totaled $2.6 million.
SOIL AND WATER COST-SHARING GRANTS
Landowners in the permanent and eight-year preservation programs may apply to the SADC for 50 percent cost-sharing grants to fund approved soil and water conservation projects. These projects, including irrigation, drainage, erosion control and water control systems, help protect soil and water resources while increasing farm productivity and profitability. In FY01, the SADC approved $977,655 million in grants to help fund 81 soil and water conservation projects.
FARMLAND STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
To help ensure that permanently preserved farmland remains productive, the SADC began development of a Farmland Stewardship Program that will assist farmers in maintaining the viability of their preserved farms. The pilot program will provide 50 percent cost-sharing grants and technical assistance to landowners to help promote and ensure the economic success of preserved farmland.
The SADC will provide grants for projects designed to enhance farm profitability as recommended by a team of agricultural and financial experts on a farm-by-farm basis. Typical of expected projects are conversion from one type of production to another, improvements to production efficiency and diversification of marketing opportunities.
RIGHT TO FARM PROGRAM
In agricultural areas where development is increasing, new residents or local governments may be unfamiliar with responsible farming practices that are essential to a vital agricultural industry. The Right to Farm Act provides eligible farmers who operate responsibly with protection from restrictive municipal ordinances and public and private nuisance actions. A critical aspect in obtaining right to farm protection is adherence to agricultural management practices (AMPs) that have been adopted by the SADC. In FY01, AMPs concerning on-farm composting and fencing for wildlife control were developed.
The Right to Farm Act gives jurisdiction in resolving complaints against agricultural operations to county agriculture development boards and, ultimately, to the SADC if the decisions of the county boards are appealed. Two decisions by the Superior Court's Appellate Division in FY01 -- one involving a Franklin Township, Hunterdon County, greenhouse grower and the other a farm market operator in Holmdel Township, Monmouth County -- supported this key provision.
In FY01, 80 right to farm cases were referred to the county or state levels of the Right to Farm Program, up from 71 the year before. Three of these cases were referred to the SADC's new mediation program which is designed to help farm operators settle farm and credit issues while avoiding time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. The SADC adopted rules for the mediation program in March 2001 and the first case under the new program, a dispute between neighboring farmers, was successfully mediated in May 2001.
TRANSFER OF DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS BANK
New Jersey's Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Bank is located in, but not of, the SADC, which serves as staff to the TDR Board of Directors. The Bank provides financial and other assistance to landowners and to municipalities that enact TDR ordinances. TDR programs are designed to encourage a shift in growth away from agricultural, environmentally-sensitive or open space regions of a municipality to more appropriate areas. Landowners in areas where land use is restricted are able to sell their development rights or development "credits." Purchasers of these credits may use them to build elsewhere in a designated growth area at a higher density than normally allowed in a town's zoning ordinance.
The TDR Bank maintains a statewide registry of land protected through the transfer of development rights. In FY01, approximately 650 acres were preserved or approved for preservation through the Chesterfield Township, Burlington County, TDR program. Previously, 563 acres had been preserved through the Lumberton Township, Burlington County, TDR program.
FARM LINK PROGRAM
The SADC's Farm Link Program matches potential buyers and sellers of
farmland. The program is useful for those who want to expand their operations
or start farming, and also for farmers or landowners who would like to
ensure that their land stays in agricultural production but have no family
members who want to continue to farm. At the end of FY01, more than 300
participants were enrolled in Farm Link with most of them interested in
In FY01, the Farm Link Program joined the Growing New Farmers Consortium Project, which brings together service providers to new farmers in 12 Northeastern states.