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Farmland Preservation
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 30, 2008, 1,755 farms covering 170,921 acres had been permanently preserved statewide, including 66 farms covering 9,876 acres in the Pinelands and 357 farms covering 30,374 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:

  • First, it helps preserve the state's agricultural industry, which contributes more than $900 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) provided an average of $85 million per year for farmland preservation purposes for a nine-year period from FY2000-2008, allowing the program to accelerate and expand farmland preservation acquisitions; and

WHEREAS, that funding was supplemented by a November 2007 public referendum that provided $73 million to sustain farmland preservation efforts through FY2009, however, there is no remaining acquisition funding for state farmland preservation funding beyond that; 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 generated $365 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, 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

HEREAS, the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) 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 included establishment of a new County Planning Incentive Grant (PIG) program that began in FY2009 as an alternative to the traditional county easement purchase program; and

WHEREAS, under the new County Planning Incentive Grant Program, counties develop comprehensive farmland preservation plans that not only establish long-term preservation goals, but also explore a wide array of ways to attract and retain thriving farm operations and a sustainable agricultural industry; and

WHEREAS, 15 counties are taking part in the program in FY09, with each county eligible to receive a minimum $2 million base grant to preserve any of the farms listed in its plan and, once it expends this grant, to compete with other counties for monies in a $15 million competitive fund, with any county ultimately eligible to receive up to a maximum of $5 million; and

WHEREAS, coordinated with the 15 county plans are 37 municipal comprehensive farmland preservation plans developed through the Municipal Planning Incentive Grant Program; and

WHEREAS, taken together, the county and municipal plans target the preservation of 4,100 farms covering more than 240,000 acres; and

WHEREAS, the new rules 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 SADC continues to work closely with County Agriculture Development Boards, county planning boards and key municipalities on a more strategic, pro-active approach for 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 SADC had fully obligated all available soil and water conservation grant funding by July 2008, and the FY2009 state budget included no new funding for soil and water conservation grant projects; and

WHEREAS, these projects are critical to protecting the natural resources that sustain agriculture and to promoting agricultural viability; 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 94th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 10, 2009, support the permanent protection of New Jersey’s farmland through the Farmland Preservation Program, a cornerstone of New Jersey’s Agricultural Smart Growth Plan 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,  water and woodland conservation cost-share program to the FY2010 budget at an adequate level to help farmers undertake critical practices to protect soil, water and woodland 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 urge the SADC to revisit its list of what activities are permitted on preserved land and expand, where appropriate, the types of activities that can be permitted, provided they relate to the selling of the agricultural products grown, raised or made on the farm. 

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.