|Annual Report 1999|
The State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC), chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, administers and coordinates the state's Farmland Preservation Program (FPP). The SADC, which is in, but not of, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, also manages the Right to Farm Program, operates the Farm Link Program and oversees the Transfer of Development Rights Bank.
In November 1998, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly supported Governor Whitman's call for a stable source of funding to preserve one million acres of open space - including 500,000 acres of farmland - over the next decade. By a two-to-one margin, voters approved a constitutional amendment that dedicates $98 million per year for the next 10 years to preservation efforts and authorizes the issuance of up to $1 billion in revenue bonds. Starting in FY2000, this will make up to $200 million available annually for open space preservation efforts. The FPP will receive 40 percent of that total, an average of $60 million per year. Prior state funding for farmland preservation averaged $15 million per year.
Governor Whitman also signed into law the Garden State Preservation Trust Act, which established a nine-member board to oversee efforts toward achieving the one million acre goal. Their responsibilities include reviewing and approving farmland preservation projects submitted by the SADC and Green Acres and historic preservation projects submitted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Under the Act, the SADC for the first time will be able to directly purchase development easements and provide grants to non-profit groups to help fund their acquisition of development rights.
In FY99, however, state funding for farmland preservation purchases and soil and water cost-sharing grants still came primarily from four sources: the Open Space Preservation Bond Act of 1989; the Green Acres, Clean Water, Farmland and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 1992; the Green Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation and Blue Acres Bond Act of 1995; and a $25 million state budget appropriation in FY99. For the third straight year, the SADC received a grant from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The $1.4 million grant helped fund the SADC's two fee simple purchases and county purchases of 14 development easements.
In FY99, 51 farms covering 6,177 acres were permanently protected under the FPP at a cost of $25.7 million. The SADC provided $17.8 million of that cost, with counties paying the remainder. These acquisitions boosted New Jersey's total preserved farmland to 356 farms covering 53,478 acres at the close of the fiscal year. An additional 85 farms covering 11,331 acres also were approved for preservation. When these purchases are completed, New Jersey's protected farmland will total more than 73,000 acres on more than 500 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 70 percent of the purchase cost for development easements for a total of just over $17.3 million. The remaining funding of $25 million was contributed by the counties and, in some cases, municipalities. Farmland owners also can donate their development easements. In FY99, development rights on the 105-acre Schley Farm in Readington Township were donated to Hunterdon County.
The SADC can purchase farms outright from owners who no longer want to stay on the land and then auction these farms to private owners with deed restrictions that permanently preserve the properties for agricultural use. In FY99, the SADC purchased two farms in this way, the 125-acre Brandenburg Farm in Plumsted Township, Ocean County, and the historic 167-acre Cottage Farm in Chesterfield Township, Burlington County. Following resale of the properties to private owners, monies from the sales returned to the FPP to fund the preservation of other farms.
Farmland owners also can take part in an eight-year preservation program through which they agree to place development restrictions on their farmland for that time period. While landowners receive no payment for this, participation makes them eligible for a number of benefits, including cost-sharing grants for soil and water conservation projects. At the close of the fiscal year, the eight-year program included 345 farms covering 27,536 acres.
During FY99, the SADC approved 91 cost-sharing grants for approximately $918,000. In addition, $524,000 was paid to landowners for completion of 72 approved projects. Over the past decade, the SADC has invested $4.3 million in these types of conservation projects to assist farmers in increasing productivity and protecting valuable soil and water resources.
In July 1998, Governor Whitman signed amendments to the Right to Farm Act to provide eligible, responsible farm operations with greater protection from restrictive municipal ordinances and public and private nuisance actions. The FY99 state budget for the first time included an allocation of $100,000 to help fund right to farm activities by county agriculture development boards.
In FY99, the SADC saw a substantial increase - 73 cases compared with 22 the year before - in right to farm cases referred to both the county and state levels of the program, largely as a result of efforts to educate farm owners about the amended Right to Farm Act. The SADC also reviewed rules proposed by state agencies that had the potential to impact agriculture; adopted new agricultural management practices for apiaries and poultry manure land applications; and developed proposals for two dozen additional agricultural management practices that will be considered during FY00.
The Farm Link program matches potential buyers with potential sellers of farmland. The program is useful for those who want to expand their farms or start farming, and also for retiring farmers or landowners who would like to insure that their land stays in agricultural production but have no family members who want to continue to farm. The program also serves as a clearinghouse for information on everything from the availability of preserved farms for sale to business contacts and resources. Both unrestricted and deed-restricted farmland enrolled in the FPP are tracked through Farm Link.
In FY99, the Farm Link database continued to be updated and made available at no charge to buyers and sellers. At the end of the fiscal year, more than 175 participants were enrolled in Farm Link. Among the connections made during the year were a young nurseryman and a nursery operation for sale in Washington Township, Mercer County. Farm Link also connected a certified organic farm in Morris County and a tenant farmer.
New Jersey's Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Bank is located in, but not of, the SADC, which provides staff to its Board of Directors. The Bank provides financial and other assistance to landowners and to municipalities that enact TDR ordinances. In May 1999, the TDR Bank Board awarded a $10,000 planning assistance grant to Chesterfield Township, Burlington County.
The Bank also maintains a statewide registry of land protected through TDR. Added to the registry during the fiscal year were three properties totaling 560 acres that were preserved through the Lumberton Township, Burlington County, TDR program.
In addition, in April 1999 the Bank produced and adopted an appraisal
handbook that will help the TDR Bank Board and appraisers determine the
value of development potential.
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