WHEREAS, by the close of 2006, more than 1,450 farms totaling approximately 150,000 acres had been permanently preserved statewide – including 58 farms covering more than 8,300 acres in the Pinelands, which is real progress in achieving the goals of the Agricultural Smart Growth Plan for New Jersey; and
WHEREAS, these preserved farms contribute not only to a secure land base for agricultural operations, but also to a host of other quality of life benefits that accrue at both the local and Statewide level, but which are not easily quantified in numbers or statistics; and
WHEREAS, the preservation of farmland makes good economic sense on many levels:
- First, it helps preserve the State's agricultural industry, which contributes more than $800 million in farm gate receipts annually;
- Second, preserved farmland is privately maintained and continues to contribute to the local tax rolls, thereby avoiding additional public cost of improvement, maintenance, policing and liabilities associated with publicly held land; and
- Third, preservation of farmland is an important property-tax stabilization tool for local governments because farmland generates far more tax revenue than it requires in public service costs, thereby allowing municipalities and counties to reduce the negative fiscal impacts of sprawl and additional residential development; and
WHEREAS, implementation of the Garden State Preservation Trust Act (GSPT Act) has provided an average of $86 million per year since FY2000 for purposes of farmland preservation, allowing the program to accelerate and expand farmland preservation acquisitions; and that funding is anticipated to support the program only through FY 2008, so an alternative source of funding must be identified and implemented soon in order to avoid a loss of program momentum and landowner interest; and
WHEREAS, the availability of GSPT funding has precipitated the creation of local farmland and open space trust funds among all 21 counties and some 231 municipalities that together have generated a 30-percent increase in available preservation funding totaling approximately $300 million annually, and has prompted the financial participation of various non-profit agencies and other non-government organizations (NGOs) in accomplishing land preservation transactions; and
WHEREAS, the State of New Jersey needs to at least be a full funding partner to match this local funding commitment; and
WHEREAS, New Jersey farmland remains under a high degree of pressure for conversion to development throughout the State, and this trend, in turn, has caused the rapid escalation of easement values throughout New Jersey as evidenced by a 182 percent increase in average certified easement values Statewide during the FY 2000-2007 period; and
WHEREAS, this rapid escalation in easement values means that fewer farmland acres can be preserved with the same amount of program funding, and that the program should, therefore, seek to preserve as much land as possible in as short a timeframe as achievable to maximize the preservation of land into the future; and
WHEREAS, as New Jersey’s roster of preserved farmland continues to grow, there is an increased demand for stewardship funding though the soil and water conservation cost-share program to assist farmers in implementing practices that protect environmental resources while maximizing farm productivity; and
WHEREAS, a significant incentive that the Farmland Preservation Program could use to attract landowners to the program is to shorten significantly the time it takes from application to closing on an easement acquisition; therefore, as part of its efforts to better compete with the development community, and improve the program for all landowners, the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) conducted a complete review of its acquisition processes and in December formally proposed rules that will streamline the Farmland Preservation Program and make it more effective, efficient and predictable; and
WHEREAS, the most significant changes will amend the county easement purchase program by offering a new county-wide planning incentive grant program beginning in FY 2008; and this shift is expected to encourage counties to comprehensively plan for preservation and expeditiously complete closings on purchases of development easements, eliminate administrative duplication at the State and county levels, and shorten the preservation process by at least six months; and
WHEREAS, the proposed changes will also improve coordination between county agriculture development boards and the State in the targeting of farms for direct and fee simple acquisitions by the SADC; and
WHEREAS, the GSPT Act provides for a 40/60 percent funding split for the Farmland Preservation Program and Green Acres Program; and a provision in the Act that appraisals for farmland preservation purposes be based on either current zoning or that in effect as of November 3, 1998 – whichever yielded the higher value – expired in June 2004; and
WHEREAS, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act signed into law in 2004 now provides that appraisals for farmland preservation purposes Statewide be based on regulations and zoning currently in effect or in effect as of January 1, 2004 – whichever yields the higher value; this provision is in effect through June 30, 2009; and
WHEREAS, the State Agriculture Development Committee continues to work closely with county agriculture development boards, county planning boards and key municipalities on a more strategic, pro-active approach to prioritizing farmland preservation investments; the goal is coordinating farmland preservation efforts at all levels of government to make the most efficient and effective use of available resources in securing a bright future for farming and the agricultural industry, as a key component of New Jersey’s Agricultural Smart Growth Plan.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 92nd State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on February 13, 2007, support the permanent protection of New Jersey’s farmland through the Farmland Preservation Program, a cornerstone of New Jersey’s Agricultural Smart Growth implementation efforts.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly encourage the Governor and the Legislature to identify and implement a sufficient and permanent source of funding that will support the continuation and expansion of the Farmland Preservation Program in fiscal years 2009 and beyond, and that a public question to approve the funding source be placed before the voters on the November 2007 ballot.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly support the current 40/60 percent funding split for the Farmland Preservation Program and Green Acres Program under the Garden State Preservation Trust Act, and recommend such allocation and the January 1, 2004 appraisal valuation provision contained in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act be sustained in whatever funding source succeeds the GSPT Act fund.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the legislature to extend the provision in the Garden State Preservation Trust Act that allows appraisals for farmland preservation purposes to be based on either current zoning or that in effect as of November 3, 1998 – whichever yielded the higher value, beyond the June 2004 expiration date.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the legislature to extend provision in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act which provides that appraisals for farmland preservation purposes Statewide be based on regulations and zoning currently in effect or in effect as of January 1, 2004 – whichever yields the higher value, beyond the June 30, 2009 expiration date.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the Governor and Legislature to restore stewardship funding assistance through the soil and water conservation cost-share program to the FY2006 budget to help farmers undertake critical practices to protect soil and water resources and to ensure that the stewardship funding does not reduce the available funding for the farmland preservation program.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support and encourage the ultimate adoption of the SADC’s proposed rules to streamline the Farmland Preservation Program to simplify, expedite and improve the effectiveness of all its farmland preservation programs.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly encourage the SADC to institute a requirement that preserved farmland be kept in agricultural production, rather than available for agricultural production, to ensure these lands continue to contribute to New Jersey’s agricultural industry and to establish stewardship requirements for preserved farmland, to ensure that preserved farmland is properly
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge SADC to explore and consider further necessary steps to ensure preserved farmland remains available and affordable to farmers and to help address the housing needs of next generation farmers where preserved farmland is in active agricultural use.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we reaffirm that the Farmland Preservation Program was founded on the principle of equity protection – that landowners are entitled to receive fair-market compensation in exchange for the public’s benefit of preserving farmland and open space.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Governor and Legislature to improve the administrative funding support to the SADC from the Garden State Preservation Trust in order for the SADC to effectively implement its proposed program changes aimed at reducing the time required to preserve farmland, and to ensure proper monitoring and stewardship of preserved lands.