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WHEREAS, the purpose of the Farmland Preservation Program is to preserve the state’s agricultural land base, helping to ensure the continued viability of New Jersey’s agricultural industry; and

WHEREAS, as of November 13, 2007, 1,628 farms covering 161,426 acres had been permanently preserved statewide, including 59 farms covering 8,833 acres in the Pinelands and 315 farms covering 27,483 acres in the Highlands; representing real progress in achieving one of the primary 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:

  1. First, it helps preserve the state's agricultural industry, which contributes more than $900 million in farm gate receipts annually;
  2. 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
  3. 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

, 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 will support the program only through FY2008; and

WHEREAS, the availability of GSPT funding precipitated the creation of local farmland and open space trust funds among all 21 counties and 234 municipalities that together have generated $337 million annually in available preservation funding, and prompted the financial participation of various non-profit agencies and other non-government organizations in accomplishing land preservation transactions; and

WHEREAS, the State of New Jersey needs to be a full funding partner to match and leverage this significant local funding commitment; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey voters on November 6, 2007 approved a public question that will provide $200 million in additional funding to continue efforts to preserve farmland, open space and historic resources, as well as to purchase flood-prone properties under the DEP’s Blue Acres Program; and

WHEREAS, that public question will provide a total of $73 million for farmland preservation, which will sustain New Jersey’s farmland preservation efforts through FY2009 and maintains the current 40/60 percent farmland/open space preservation funding split; and

WHEREAS, it is critical that a permanent, long-term source of farmland preservation funding be identified and implemented soon in order to avoid a loss of program momentum and landowner interest; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey farmland has been 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 238 percent increase in average certified easement values statewide during the FY 2000-2008 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, particularly given the recent temporary downturn in the housing market; and

WHEREAS, the State Agriculture Development Committee in July, 2007 adopted new and amended rules to streamline the Farmland Preservation Program to make it more effective and efficient while providing the same high degree of accountability to the public; and

WHEREAS, these rules include establishment of a new county planning incentive grant (PIG) program beginning in FY2009 as an alternative to the traditional county easement purchase program; and

WHEREAS, the new county PIG program will 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 new rules 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, these new rules represent the most sweeping changes to the Farmland Preservation Program since its inception and will position the program to meet continuing high demand for the program; 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; and

WHEREAS, as New Jersey’s roster of preserved farmland continues to grow, there is an increased demand for stewardship funding through the soil and water conservation cost-share program to assist farmers in implementing practices that protect environmental resources while maximizing farm productivity; and

WHEREAS, the FY2008 state budget included $300,000 for soil and water conservation grant funding and the SADC was able to identify an additional $782,734 for this purpose from interest earnings from prior bond funds, resulting in a total of $1,082,734 in soil and water conservation grant funding for FY2008; and

WHEREAS, the State Board of Agriculture recognizes that many agricultural operations are seeking ways to increase farm profitability by establishing and expanding agri-tourism related activities on their farms; and

WHEREAS, such agri-tourism related operations may include certain activities that are not clearly permitted under the SADC’s Farmland Preservation Deed of Easement, nor are clearly protected under the Right to Farm Act, and

WHEREAS, the SADC is charged with interpreting the provisions of the Agriculture Retention and Development Act and the Right to Farm Act and such interpretations have fundamental impacts on the ability of farmland owners to expand, change and innovate their operations in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 93rd State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 5, 2008, 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 a sufficient and permanent source of funding that will support the continuation and expansion of the Farmland Preservation Program in fiscal years 2010 and beyond.

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 be sustained in whatever funding source succeeds the GSPT Act fund.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the Legislature to extend beyond the June 30, 2009 expiration date the provision in the Garden State Preservation Trust Act, as amended, that allows appraisals for farmland preservation purposes to be based on either current zoning or that in effect as of January 1, 2004 – whichever yields the higher value.

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 FY2009 budget at an adequate level 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 urge the SADC to continue to seek out innovative ways to continue to improve the Farmland Preservation Program, including considering necessary steps to ensure that preserved farmland remains available and affordable to farmers.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the SADC to interpret its authorizing statutes and regulations as broadly and liberally as possible to maximize the flexibility afforded to owners of preserved farmland and the degree of protection afforded to agricultural operators seeking Right to Farm protections. 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we endorse and support the new county PIG program, which allows counties to more comprehensively and expeditiously plan for preservation and implement the preservation process.

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 preserved farmland is properly maintained.

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 maintain administrative funding support to the SADC from the Garden State Preservation Trust in order for the SADC to effectively implement its new farmland preservation rules, and to ensure the preservation of the maximum amount of farmland and proper monitoring and stewardship of preserved lands.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department and SADC to collaborate on a public education campaign that stresses the benefits to residents and municipalities of Farmland Preservation, both as an enhancement to residents’ quality of life and as a method for controlling property taxes by limiting the demands for municipal services and school expansion.