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WHEREAS, the Garden State’s high quality of life depends to a great extent on maintaining our diverse agricultural industry, and agriculture is an important contributor to New Jersey’s economic vitality, employing thousands of people in a variety of careers on and off the farm; and

WHEREAS, privately owned, qualified farmland and woodland account for one million acres of land, nearly 23 percent of the state’s land area, on which taxes are paid to support school districts, county government and municipal budgets; and

WHEREAS, in 1963, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment that permitted, qualified farmland and woodland to be assessed and taxed based on the agricultural productivity of the land; and 

WHEREAS, today, farmland assessment continues to be one of the single most important public policies in keeping agriculture, and all its positive environmental, economic and aesthetic attributes, alive and well in this, the most densely populated state in the nation; and

WHEREAS, the Farmland Assessment Act established the implementation program for qualified farmland and woodland to be assessed at its agricultural or horticultural value; and

WHEREAS, farmland assessment does not forgive taxes; rather, the Act permits assessments on qualified land to be in line with net income from the land, allowing the farmland owner the opportunity to pay local taxes based on the productive capacity of the land devoted to agricultural or horticultural production; and

WHEREAS, the Farmland Assessment Act deals with the assessed value of land, (as defined in the Farmland Assessment application) but does not affect the assessed value of improvements, farm structures   barns, farm markets, packaging and processing structures, and equine facilities, which are assessed and taxed at the same level, market value, as other non-farm real estate.  

WHEREAS, while the State Farmland Evaluation Advisory Committee annually establishes productivity values for farmland and woodland for use by local assessors in assessing qualified farmland, it is important to note that New Jersey farmers continue to pay the second highest property taxes in the nation, nine times higher than the national average, even with farmland assessment; and

WHEREAS, the Farmland Assessment Act also provides for a levy of rollback tax if the use of the land changes from agriculture or horticulture; as a result, any qualified land that changes from an eligible agricultural or horticultural use to some other non-farm use, which includes the abandonment of agricultural activity, is subject to rollback taxes; and

WHEREAS, the rollback tax liability is for the year in which the change takes place, and for each of the two tax years immediately preceding in which the land was valued, assessed and taxed under the Act; and

WHEREAS, the liability for rollback taxes attaches to the land at the time a change in use of the land occurs but not when a change in ownership takes place if the new owner continues to maintain the land in an active agricultural or horticultural use in conformity with the requirements of the Act; and

WHEREAS, periodically, certain provisions of the Farmland Assessment Act have been questioned and come under the scrutiny of legislators and other policymakers,  although historically such scrutiny has resulted in adjustments and improvements in the implementation of the act; and

WHEREAS, if the rollback period were lengthened, such a change would be tantamount to a reduction in the value of the land.  The impact of lengthening the rollback period would mean that sizable acreage would go out of agriculture because any increase in the length of the rollback period would adversely impact the ability to remain in farming and retain farmland.  For many farmers the ability to remain in agriculture stems not only from current financial returns, but also from increasing the value of their farmland; and

WHEREAS, in order to develop objective information on the program’s basic qualification criteria, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture commissioned a study by Cook College, Rutgers University; and

WHEREAS, the study, issued in January 1999, provided objective, quantitative information regarding possible impacts resulting from changes to the program’s qualification criteria; however, the study did not provide any recommendations concerning its findings; and

WHEREAS, to fully evaluate the economic analysis and findings of the Cook College report and to develop recommendations, a Farmland Assessment Review Committee was created by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture; and

WHEREAS, in the recommendations of the Farmland Assessment Review Committee prepared in March 2001, the Committee looked at the findings of the May 4, 1999 study Farmland Assessment in New Jersey: Effects of Revisions in Eligibility Requirements on Land Use, Open Space and Municipal Finance and strongly recommended that the current minimum acreage, rollback, and revenue requirements remain unchanged.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 93rd State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 6, 2008, reaffirm the paramount importance that farmland assessment has in providing equitable agricultural taxes on farmland and woodland actively devoted to an agricultural or horticultural use.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call on the Department and Rutgers University to update the study issued in January 1999 on the possible impacts of changes to the Farmland Assessment Act.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department to work with appropriate agencies and industry representatives to conduct an educational campaign that informs the public about the benefits of farmland assessment, not only for farmers but for the communities in which they exist.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we, the delegates, strongly oppose changing the eligibility criteria in the Farmland Assessment Act, including any increase in the rollback period.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we direct the Department to forward a copy of this resolution to the Legislature to draw their attention to the agricultural community’s concerns on this issue.