WHEREAS, to the New Jersey public, farmland assessment is a cornerstone public policy 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, farmland assessment applies to the land used for agricultural production and farmers continue to pay the regular rate of property tax on their farmhouses and other structures; and
WHEREAS, if a property has a history of agricultural production and farmland assessment, but is sold, and where the new owners maintain the agricultural production and appropriate paperwork, the agricultural assessment will remain in effect; and
WHEREAS, maintaining privately managed farmland benefits municipal budgets because such farmland requires less than a dollar’s worth of municipal and local school services for every dollar paid in property taxes while, conversely, residential development requires more than a dollar’s worth of those services for every dollar it generates in property taxes; and
WHEREAS, certain aspects of farmland assessment have come under question concerning enforcement, education, and qualification criteria, and the agricultural community, whose continued farmland assessment tax equity relies in large part on maintaining the integrity of the program, looks forward to working with the Administration and Legislature to curb any identified abuses of the use of farmland assessment.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 96th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 8-9, 2011, reaffirm the paramount importance that farmland assessment has in providing equitable taxes on farmland and woodland actively devoted to an agricultural or horticultural use.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we direct the Department to be pro-active in its approach to ensuring that it makes available, both electronically and by other means, information to municipal tax assessors about the tax equity benefits of farmland assessment, along with instructions for properly filling out the FA-1 application form when 28,000 application forms are mailed to farmland owners.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department, in conjunction with the Division of Taxation, to continue working to educate municipal tax assessors on agricultural practices common throughout New Jersey, including biosecurity measures, and to provide additional information that will result in a more uniform interpretation of which lands qualify for farmland assessment and which lands don’t.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we believe hard-and-fast cropping intensity or livestock carrying capacity standards are not the best way to resolve issues regarding which lands qualify for farmland assessment, since such standards cannot adequately fit the broad scope of land forms, soil types and approved management practices suitable in New Jersey and could result in depletion of natural resources, and would increase the complexity of administering the program and unduly burden qualified land owners.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the agricultural industry in New Jersey supports reforms to the farmland assessment program that, while avoiding hard and fast mandates, remove properties that do not conform to the Division of Taxation guidelines for farmland assessment, and acknowledges the need to continually re-examine the criteria, including the amount of agricultural products sold, for qualifying for farmland assessment.
The Department commissioned the Food Policy Institute of Rutgers University to research the implications of potential changes in the eligibility requirements for farmland assessment on qualified acreage and agricultural industry revenues in New Jersey. That study found that raising the minimum revenue requirement to $1,000 would result in 47,378 acres of land (10,426 acres of cropland/pasture and 36,952 acres of woodland) being rendered ineligible for farmland assessment and the estimated loss of $2 million in agricultural industry revenue, assuming no productivity adjustments are made.
That Rutgers study also found raising the minimum revenue requirement to $2,500 would result in 149,631 acres of land (56,641 acres of cropland/pasture and 92,989 acres of woodland) being rendered ineligible for farmland assessment and the estimated loss of $10.75 million in agricultural industry revenue, assuming no productivity adjustments are made.
Various bills have been introduced in the Legislature with proposals to change the farmland assessment qualification criteria. Among them have been proposals to qualify woodland through “stewardship” programs that do not require harvesting or sales; defining solar and wind energy generation as agricultural uses; changing the minimum dollar requirement to $1,000 of products sold; permitting acreage under a bee management plan to qualify; requiring tax assessors to attend educational courses; and providing rule-making authority to the Department to set minimum cropping intensity and livestock carrying capacities.
An audit report on the farmland assessment program has been conducted by the Office of Legislative Services and it recommended state oversight organizations review and advocate changes to the regulations/policy defining actively devoted farmland/woodland as well as modifying the gross sales requirements and the length of the rollback recovery period.
That audit report also cited an uneven enforcement and interpretation of the rules governing farmland assessment by local tax assessors throughout the state, underscoring the need for uniform training and guidance materials to ensure that tax assessors statewide are working from the same set of guidelines and interpreting them in a uniform manner.