|2000 Annual Report|
In June 1999, Governor Christie Whitman signed into law the Garden State Preservation Trust Act (GSPTA), which provides the framework for achieving the goal of preserving 500,000 acres of farmland and 500,000 acres of open space over the next decade. The Act established the first stable source of funding for farmland preservation, making $80 million available for farmland preservation in FY00, a five-fold increase compared to most other years of the program.
Farmland is permanently preserved through the sale or donation of development easements. When landowners sell or donate their development easements, they still own their land but give up the right to use it for anything other than agricultural pursuits.
Most farms have entered the Farmland Preservation Program through annual county purchases of development rights, with the SADC providing grants to reimburse counties for 60 to 80 percent of the costs. In calendar year 2000 the SADC was able to hold two county funding rounds for the first time in its history. Thanks to the stable funding provided by the Trust, the SADC funded two preservation rounds in the same calendar year. Through them, the SADC authorized the permanent preservation of 227 farms totaling 19,272 acres.
By the close of FY00, the Farmland Preservation Program permanently preserved 76 farms covering 11,262 acres. This raised program totals of permanently preserved properties to 432 farms covering 64,738 acres since the program's establishment in 1983.
The SADC also purchases farms outright through its fee simple program. The properties then are permanently deed-restricted for agricultural use and resold at auction to private owners. The single largest preservation project in the history of the Farmland Preservation Program - the two-phase acquisition of 1,076 acres of farmland in Gloucester and Salem Counties in late 1999 and early 2000 - took place through the fee simple program. The farmland, located mainly in Elk and Franklin Townships, was purchased by the SADC with cost-sharing assistance from Gloucester County.
The 1,800 acres represented by this property and five others preserved through fee simple purchases were resold in spring 2000 in the largest public offering of preserved farmland in the program's history. Prior to this, the fee simple program had purchased and resold a total of about 3,100 acres since the first such purchase in 1987.
Another unusual acquisition this year was the 276-acre Strang Farm in Alloway and Mannington Townships, Salem County, which includes an historic brick house circa 1864. The public auction of this property in fall 2000 will mark the first time the SADC has sold property with two easements - one that will preserve the land for agriculture and another that will ensure protection of the historic structure on the farm.
In addition to providing the first ever stable funding source for farmland preservation, the GSPTA enables the SADC to purchase development easements directly from landowners and provide grants to non-profit organizations to fund up to 50 percent of the costs of farmland preservation projects. Legislation enacted after the creation of the GSPTA allows the program to offer planning incentive grants to encourage counties and municipalities to preserve large blocks of farmland.
Initially, the new direct easement purchase program gave priority to those farms adversely affected by 1999's devastating drought. However, using this new tool, the SADC may also purchase directly from the landowner development easements on superior quality farmland that is likely to be developed or has regional or statewide importance. The SADC's first direct purchase of development easements came mid-year with the acquisition of the development rights on a 237-acre farm in Allamuchy, Warren County.
The inclusion of non-profit organizations as partners in the farmland preservation process was an important aspect of the GSPTA. Just as with other farms preserved under the Farmland Preservation Program, those on which development easements are purchased by non-profit organizations must continue to be maintained for agricultural use. The SADC expected to award its first non-profit grant in early FY01.
The third important new preservation opportunity involved offering planning incentive grants to encourage counties and municipalities to preserve large blocks of farmland through a project area application process. Under this program, rather than applying to preserve farms one by one, towns and counties can identify project areas consisting of multiple farms. The program also encourages the use of innovative funding techniques, such as installment purchases, that enable state and local governments to lock in farmland purchases at current prices while spreading out payments to landowners over a period of several years. The SADC still provides cost-sharing grants of 60 to 80 percent to help fund the purchase of development rights on farms within these project areas.
Under another program, farmland owners may choose to restrict development for a period of eight years. Although landowners do not receive any funds for doing so, their participation does make them eligible to apply for certain benefits of the permanent program, including cost-sharing grants for up to 50 percent of the cost of soil and water conservation projects on the farms.
In FY00, the SADC approved 37 new farms totaling 2,585 acres for entry into the eight-year program and nine farms totaling 539 acres for renewals. At year's end, a total of 370 farms covering 29,163 acres were protected through eight-year retention commitments.
Landowners in the permanent and eight-year preservation programs are eligible to apply to the SADC for 50 percent cost-sharing grants to fund approved soil and water conservation projects. These projects not only protect soil and water resources, but increase productivity and profitability for the farmer. In FY00, the SADC approved a record $1.6 million in grants to help fund 135 soil and water conservation projects.
The Right to Farm Act was amended in 1998 to provide eligible, responsible farm operations with greater protection from restrictive municipal ordinances and public and private nuisance actions.
This year, 71 right-to-farm cases were referred to the county or state levels of the program. To help county agriculture development boards carry out their responsibilities under the law, the SADC held three workshops to train board members to conduct public hearings on right-to-farm issues.
Farmers who adhere to the SADC's agricultural management practices are entitled to greater protection under the Right to Farm Act. This year the SADC continued its efforts to provide those guidelines with the adoption of new agricultural management practices for land application of food processing by-products; commercial vegetable and tree fruit production; and natural resource conservation. Proposals also were developed for amendments to the commercial vegetable and tree fruit production agricultural management practices.
With a $70,000 grant from USDA's Farm Service Agency, the SADC initiated an agricultural mediation service, administered through the Right-to-Farm Program, to assist farm operators in settling right-to-farm and credit issues while avoiding time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. The SADC sponsored mediation training for approximately 30 potential mediators and the first case under the new program was successfully mediated in June.
New Jersey's Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Bank is located in, but not of, the SADC, which acts as staff to the TDR Board of Directors. The Bank provides financial and other assistance to landowners and to municipalities that enact TDR ordinances. Rules establishing TDR Bank operating procedures - including those for the purchase of development credits - were adopted by the Board of Directors at the end of FY99.
TDR programs are designed to encourage a shift in growth away from agricultural, environmentally-sensitive or open space regions of a municipality to areas designated to accommodate the growth. Landowners in areas where the land is intended to be kept open received "credits" and are able to sell those credits. Purchasers of these credits may use them to build elsewhere in a designated growth area.
The TDR Bank maintains a statewide registry of land protected through the transfer of development rights. As of June 30, 2000, four properties totaling 563 acres had been preserved through the Lumberton Township, Burlington County, TDR program.
The owners of these properties preserved them by enrolling their development credits with the Township. Developers purchased all of these credits and by the end of the fiscal year had used all but a handful credits to build at higher densities in the Township's designated growth area.
The SADC's Farm Link Program matches potential buyers and 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 ensure that their land stays in agricultural production but have no family members who want to continue to farm.
The program also assists non-profit organizations, municipalities and counties in finding buyers for farms that they have preserved and want to resell with permanent deed restrictions. It also serves as a clearinghouse for other types of information, including business contacts and resources.