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WHEREAS, a sufficient land base must exist for agriculture to remain viable in New Jersey; and

WHEREAS, of the approximately 1.7 million acres of remaining undeveloped or unpreserved open space in New Jersey, 1.1 million acres of agricultural and forest lands acres are actively devoted to agricultural and woodland production; therefore, New Jersey’s farmland is in high demand by developers and others with non-agricultural interests; and

WHEREAS, the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) has provided the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) with an average of $86 million annually in new farmland preservation funding for fiscal years 2000-2008; and

WHEREAS, although the GSPT was established as a 10-year program expected to provide funding through fiscal year 2009, depletion of the fund has been accelerated by a number of factors; and it is critical that a stable source of funding for farmland preservation be renewed; and

WHEREAS, the GSPT currently has only approximately $75 million total remaining to fund farmland preservation projects in fiscal year 2008 and beyond; and

WHEREAS, preservation of land is only one component of preserving New Jersey’s farmers and agricultural industry; the Department’s approach to smart growth coordinates farmland preservation efforts with economic development strategies at the county and municipal levels; and

WHEREAS, the Department’s Agricultural Smart Growth Plan includes comprehensive proactive strategies that link the land, products, processing and workforce with marketing opportunities; the plan encourages proven traditional measures as well as innovative approaches, such as clustering and using alternative wastewater treatment systems to balance the need for both preservation and growth; and

WHEREAS, the plan also opposes large lot zoning and downzoning, two practices that permanently remove the land from agricultural production at an accelerated rate, undermine preservation programs, and erode a farmer’s equity; these actions have a direct, negative impact on the retention of farms and farmers by severely reducing land values and farmland landowner equity; and

WHEREAS, the plan also recognizes long-term land value appreciation as a factor in the continued viability of New Jersey farms; and the maintenance of equity is a key concern for farmers, who use their land’s value as collateral for operating and production loans; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Agriculture’s Smart Growth Working Group has developed a web-based Planner’s Tool Kit that provides municipalities and counties with “hands-on” tools to assist with the implementation of the objectives and strategies of the Agricultural Smart Growth Plan; and

WHEREAS, land use concerns of statewide importance continue to come to the forefront, such as restrictions on impervious cover, which is broadly defined to include any surface that is highly resistant to water infiltration; however, the definition can vary depending upon the defining entity; and

WHEREAS, although outside pressures continue to try to cap the amount of impervious cover on preserved farms, the Department of Agriculture supports a science-based approach that addresses the issue on a site-by-site basis through the conservation planning process; and

WHEREAS, the legislature amended the Right to Farm Act in 1998 to require an agency proposing a rule for adoption to include in the rule proposal an Agriculture Industry Impact Statement, setting forth the nature and extent of the impact of the proposed rule on the agricultural industry so that the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) is given the opportunity to evaluate the impact, because if the SADC finds that the proposed rules may have a significant adverse impact on the agricultural industry, the agency proposing the rule is obligated to consult with the SADC; and

WHEREAS, agency rules have been proposed without appropriate consideration of the impact on the agricultural industry and therefore without provision of the statutorily required notice to the agricultural industry and the SADC, thereby effectively denying the agricultural industry its mandated opportunity for consultation in the rule-making process.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates of the 93rd State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 5, 2008, endorse the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Smart Growth Plan and its five-part approach to land use and conservation, balanced with economic development initiatives.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we recommend that the Department of Agriculture take a lead role in supporting and advancing equitable and feasible density-transfer methods, including but not limited to clustering, regional growth zones, Pineland Development Credits (PDCs) and transfer of development rights (TDRs) to coordinate preservation planning in conjunction with growth planning.  The Department should also support and advance the use of current and new wastewater technologies to allow for the implementation of sound, innovative planning techniques to assist municipalities and counties with the implementation of the objectives and strategies of the Agricultural Smart Growth Plan.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Department should also explore funding options to advance the development and expansion of agricultural facilities and infrastructure systems.  Other statewide initiatives, such as Ag Enterprise Zones, should be explored to stimulate the retention and viability of farms and the businesses that support them.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, we are opposed to downzoning or large-lot zoning or zoning that has the practical effect of large lot zoning, because it fractures and consumes farmland, promotes land-consumptive sprawl, and adversely affects landowner equity.  These zoning practices are counter-productive to the principles of smart growth and should be discouraged by the Office of Smart Growth.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we recognize that the protection of farmer landowner equity is critical to the preservation of agriculture in New Jersey, and the preservation of the land base.  The cost of stopping sprawl, preserving open space, and protecting the environment must be shared by all those who benefit, not placed primarily upon those who wish to keep their land in agriculture or open space.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we oppose the adoption of restrictive land use and wildlife management or protection statutes or ordinances by the State or any municipality in the State of New Jersey that are not science based or that exceed the powers granted to governmental entities under existing laws and statutes.  County Agriculture Development Boards are encouraged to exercise their power to monitor and make recommendations to the SADC, county and municipal governing bodies and boards, regarding resolutions, ordinances, regulations and development approvals that would threaten the continued viability of agricultural activities and farmland preservation programs within agricultural development areas.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we direct the Department to monitor the activities of, and regulations promulgated by, other state and federal agencies and County Boards of Agriculture and make recommendations to these entities when their actions and regulations have an impact on agriculture.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we direct the Department to send a copy of this resolution to all appropriate agencies whose decisions might impact agriculture and call upon the agencies to honor the law’s recognition of agriculture by following the legislative requirement that each rule proposal contain a statement of the nature and extent of the impact of the proposed rule on the agricultural industry, including a full assessment of the economic impact on the agricultural industry, the programs available to mitigate those impacts and landowner compensation for lost property rights.  Further, we direct the NJDA to assist the SADC in determining on behalf of the agricultural community if the proposed rules may have a significant adverse impact on the agricultural industry, and propose a remedy or suitable alternative.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we oppose any conservation programs such as the LIP Program that directly compete with farmers for rented farmland and pay two to three times the per-acre rental rate.  Such programs do not benefit the farm operator and compete for prime productive acres, reducing farm viability.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we recommend that all landowners involved in all preservation programs (TDR sending areas, Pinelands credit sending areas, etc.) be eligible for the same package of benefits or state incentive programs available through the State Farmland Preservation Program, and that tenants be eligible for those programs that are appropriate to them..

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call on the Legislature and all other appropriate officials to require that all public land acquired for open space purposes, which is farmed or can potentially be farmed, continue in an agricultural use or be placed in an agricultural use until it is needed for its acquired purpose - thereby keeping more of the state’s land base in agriculture.  Doing so will expand the industry and minimize the maintenance that is needed to control exotic and invasive species.  Keeping publicly-owned land in ongoing agricultural use will allow the land to be recognized as “established” and “ongoing” in the Freshwater Wetlands Act, eligible for agricultural exemptions, where lands that have lain idle for more than five years are no longer recognized as such.  In addition, private management of public land is cost-effective, thereby saving tax dollars that would otherwise be spent on land maintenance, and is likely to result in more consistent land management because farmers will want the land maintained in a manner that will result in the greatest crop yield.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we encourage participation of the entire agricultural community in the smart growth planning process and the ongoing cross-acceptance process.  We direct the Department of Agriculture to work with Rutgers University, the New Jersey Farm Bureau, the County Boards of Agriculture, the County Agriculture Development Boards, commodity groups, community leaders and other interested partners in the implementation of the Department’s Agricultural Smart Growth Plan.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we continue to oppose any hard and fast caps on impervious cover.  We support a threshold trigger for new impervious cover and the use of science-based criteria, which is evaluated on a site-specific basis.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the State Planning Commission to integrate the Department’s Agricultural Smart Growth Plan into the State Comprehensive Smart Growth Plan to ensure a balanced approach that recognizes the importance of agriculture in New Jersey.