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Conservation Planning to Protect Both the Environment and Agriculture
WHEREAS, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), through the State Board of Agriculture, the State Agriculture Development Committee and the State Soil Conservation Committee/Soil Conservation Districts, is charged by statute with strengthening and supporting the continued viability of the 800,000 acres of agricultural land and providing for natural resource conservation in New Jersey through a variety of programs, partnerships, and personal contacts; and

WHEREAS, the Department in its programs historically and aggressively supports natural resource conservation programs for the protection of the soil, water, air, plants and animals related to agriculture, and the protection of New Jersey citizens who rely on fresh, high-quality agricultural products, open space, forest lands and the vast natural, social and environmental benefits of these systems; and

WHEREAS, the Department relies upon sound science, expertise and knowledge from New Jersey universities, state and federal partner agencies, advisory groups, agricultural industry representatives and professionals from around the state and nation to help develop sound, time-tested and realistic conservation policies and best management practices to protect our state’s natural and renewable resources to support New Jersey’s agriculture infrastructure valued at more than $8.6 billion with products valued at $1 billion annually; and

WHEREAS, agricultural producers have put their trust in the Department, state universities, conservation partner agencies and advisory groups for technical support of New Jersey’s agricultural industry and for the sustainability of producers, their way-of-life and their dedication to agriculture, such that the Farmland Preservation Program that permanently restricts the land for agricultural use – which is strongly supported by the general public and farmers – continues to be oversubscribed; and

WHEREAS, agricultural production is hampered at times by the forces of nature such as excessive cold, heat, wetness, dryness, disease, other natural occurrences and also by overly-restrictive regulations that jeopardize the personal livelihood of producers and directly impact whether the land will remain in agriculture or will be converted to non-agricultural uses; and  

WHEREAS, during the past several years there has been a dramatic increase in regulation by rules and ordinances that adversely impact agriculture, which has caused great concern and frustration in the agricultural community and is contributing to a faster conversion of land out of agricultural use; and

WHEREAS, agricultural producers’ ability to farm is often impeded by restrictions regarding dust, sound, odor, water use, tree-harvesting, protected wildlife species and required buffers, as well as over-aggressive and inconsistent enforcement, including threats of fines and other actions that can overwhelm a responsible agricultural operation, resulting in significant income loss; and

WHEREAS, the Department has offered constructive and reasonable comments to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) during its rule-making process to protect agriculture against the adoption of unnecessary regulations while still ensuring protection of the environment against non-point source pollution, but often to no avail; and

WHEREAS, the Department has provided comments on the Stormwater rules, Surface Water Quality Standards amendments, Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules, Water Quality Management Planning rules, Stormwater Best Management Practices (that are not promulgated by rule), Highlands rules and policies in order to protect responsible agriculture operations from unnecessary regulation; and

WHEREAS, there is a perception that, while NJDEP advocates for the retention of agricultural and open land, it does not respect agriculture’s input on regulations that negatively impact a farmer’s ability to keep that land open and productive, despite the fact that the Department’s recommendations are based on the 70-year history of the natural resource conservation programs; and

WHEREAS, agricultural producers, in turn, have not received a satisfactory response to impediments and nuisances impacting agriculture, such as geese, deer, bear, erosion, invasive species from publicly held lands and other problems that are under the control of other regulatory agencies; and

WHEREAS, the state’s 15 Soil Conservation Districts would benefit from a unified view of and approach to the tasks confronting them, in order to reduce inconsistencies in how they interpret rules and regulations.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 94th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 11, 2009, hereby support the historic and ongoing programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency and Rural Development; the New Jersey Department of Agriculture; Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the Agricultural Experiment Station; and other agencies and groups that support the protection of agricultural land, natural resources and the agricultural industry.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Department should continue to work in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rutgers Cooperative Extension, soil conservation districts and others, to develop, enhance and maintain conservation practices that are based on sound science, and expand the implementation of conservation plans, including incentive-based programs to protect the quality of water, soil, air, plants and animals.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the NJDEP to adopt an overall policy direction that would allow for a permit-by-rule procedure for agricultural operations, whereby the natural resource concerns that are being addressed in specific regulations are addressed through the development and implementation of a Farm Conservation Plan; a permit-by-rule allows a specific regulated activity to be undertaken without prior written approval of the NJDEP, provided that all conditions of the appropriate rule are met.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the Governor and the Legislature, working in conjunction with the Department, to ensure that a permit-by-rule approach and other appropriate remedies are implemented without delay to protect environmentally responsible agricultural operations from overly burdensome regulations that threaten the continued viability of these farms and New Jersey’s efforts to retain our farmland and a thriving agricultural industry.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the State Soil Conservation Committee to work with the 15 Soil Conservation Districts to reduce inconsistencies in approaches and to follow a more uniform course of action for the betterment of all New Jersey agriculture.