|Annual Report 1998|
FY98 was a record-setting year for the Farmland Preservation Program (FPP) with 55 farms covering 10,103 acres permanently preserved during the year at a total cost of $36 million, including fee simple purchases. This is the most acreage and greatest number of farms preserved in a single year in the 15-year history of the program with the acreage nearly equaling the combined totals of the previous two years. Acquisitions completed in FY98 raised program totals to 305 farms on 47,301 acres.
During FY98, an additional 67 farms covering approximately 7,431 acres in 15 counties were approved for development easement acquisition. When these purchases are completed, the amount of protected farmland will total more than 62,000 acres on over 425 farms.
All of the farmland preservation programs administered by the SADC are voluntary. Although the specifics of the programs vary, each protects farmland by imposing deed restrictions which prohibit non- agricultural development. The terms of those restrictions can be either permanent or for eight years.
Landowners who permanently deed-restrict their farms against future non-agricultural development are compensated for the development value of the farmland and enjoy the same benefits that accrue to participants in the eight-year program. Future owners of those permanently preserved farms must comply with all deed restrictions as well.
Under the FPP, the SADC provides cost-sharing grants that cover from 60 to 80 percent of the purchase price for the majority of easement purchases. In FY98 the SADC provided an average of 68 percent of the purchase cost for development easements for a total of just over $22 million. The remaining funding of $10.5 million was contributed by the counties and, in some cases, municipalities.
In certain cases, the SADC may purchase farms directly - "in fee simple" - for resale at public auction with permanent deed restrictions. During FY98, the SADC purchased three farms covering 1,012 acres in this fashion and auctioned them to new owners. The SADC arranged three additional purchases in fee simple of farms covering almost 478 acres with final closings and resale slated for FY99.
For the second straight year, the SADC received a grant from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service under the Farmland Protection Program included in the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996. The $200,000 grant went toward the fee simple purchase of a 561-acre farm in Warren County.
Under the eight-year program, landowners voluntarily place development restrictions on their farmland for a period of eight years. In exchange, participating landowners, while not directly compensated for the temporary restriction, become eligible for cost- sharing grants for soil and water conservation projects.
In addition, their farming operations are protected from nuisance complaints under the right-to-farm law and from fuel and water rationing in times of emergency and are less susceptible to eminent domain takings. The eight-year farmland program included over 22,000 acres on 277 farms at the end of FY98.
Funding administered by the SADC is also used to provide grants to landowners
for up to 50 percent of the cost of certain long-range soil and water
conservation projects. All FPP participants are eligible for cost-sharing
grants to offset half of the cost of a wide array of soil and water conservation
The Agricultural Right to Farm Task Force, established last year, completed their assessment of ways to strengthen the Right to Farm Act, drafted proposed amendments to the Act and implemented a strategy to execute these initiatives. The Right to Farm Task Force's proposal provided increased protection for eligible, responsible farm operations from municipal ordinances, public and private nuisance law suits and state regulations.
The proposals were incorporated in draft legislation which was approved by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Christie Whitman at a ceremony in Cumberland County at year's end.
The SADC continued to maintain a Right to Farm case registry and wrote, published and disseminated an informational brochure describing the protections and benefits of the program.
In June 1997, the SADC established the Farm Link program to match potential buyers with potential sellers of farmland. Farmers who want to expand their farms or individuals who want to start farming will be able to take advantage of Farm Link. The program will also be useful to retiring farmers or landowners who would like to make sure the land stays in agricultural production but have no family members who want to continue to farm.
A Farm Link database was constructed consisting of potential farmers as well as retiring farmers and relocating landowners. The information will be continually updated and made available at no charge to buyers and sellers. Both unrestricted and deed-restricted farmland enrolled in the FPP will be tracked through Farm Link. In addition, New Jersey's Farm Link program became an active member of the National Family Farm/Ranch Transition Network, a national clearinghouse for land-link programs to buyers and sellers across the country.
At the end of the fiscal year over 140 participants were enrolled in Farm Link. During the year, the program successfully connected a family farm operation based in Wrightstown, Burlington County, with a landowner in need of management of a 140-acre farm located in Mansfield and Chesterfield Townships.
New Jersey's Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Bank Board of Directors is located in, but not of, the SADC which provides staff to the Board of Directors. The Bank provides financial and other assistance to landowners and to municipalities which enact TDR ordinances.
The TDR Bank Board presented its first planning assistance grant in the amount of $10,000 to Lumberton Township, Burlington County, in October. In addition, an appropriation bill extending the original allocation of $400,000 for administrative costs to December 27, 2001, was approved at the beginning of May.
The TDR Bank Board proposed new rules to develop procedures for purchasing development potential and for providing loan guarantees. The Bank also initiated a contract with an independent appraiser to develop an appraisal handbook for use by the TDR Bank Board and appraisers for the valuation of development potential. In addition, the Bank developed its by-laws for the conduct of its business.