WHEREAS, as of November 10, 2010, 1,966 farms covering 188,009 acres had been permanently preserved statewide, including 77 farms covering 10,987 acres in the Pinelands and 418 farms covering 35,011 acres in the Highlands, which contribute not only to a secure land base for agricultural operations, but also to a host of other quality of life benefits at both the local and statewide level; and
WHEREAS, New Jersey voters in November 2009 approved a public question that provides $400 million to continue New Jersey’s preservation efforts, including $146 million for farmland preservation; and
WHEREAS, this funding has not yet been appropriated for preservation efforts; and
WHEREAS, the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) has established farmland preservation program allocations for FY2011 that would use the first portion of this funding, and is accepting and processing applications through Green Light and final approvals, with timing of closings subject to funding being made available by the Department of Treasury; and
WHEREAS, preserved farmland remains privately managed and continues to contribute tax revenue to municipal budgets; and
WHEREAS, it remains critical that a permanent, long-term source of farmland preservation funding be identified and implemented to continue to sustain farmland preservation efforts when this stopgap funding runs out; and
WHERES, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed to consolidate the SADC’s farmland preservation acquisition functions within the DEP’s Green Acres Program, a move that would discourage farmers from participating in the Farmland Preservation Program and fragment and weaken New Jersey’s efforts to sustain a thriving agricultural industry.
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, support the permanent protection of New Jersey’s farmland through the Farmland Preservation Program.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the Governor and Legislature to appropriate the funding approved by voters in November 2009 as soon as possible to avoid a loss of momentum in New Jersey’s farmland preservation efforts, as reported by some counties which have stopped accepting new applications for the program, and to continue to make farmland preservation available to farmers who want to sell their development rights or their land outright.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the SADC to continue its planning incentive grant process, which to date has resulted in the development of 17 county comprehensive farmland preservation plans and 43 municipal plans that address strategies not only to preserve farmland but to sustain agriculture as an industry.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that those plans include one-, five- and 10-year goals that target the preservation of 26,000 acres at a cost of $374 million in one year; 117,000 acres at a cost of $1.6 billion over five years; and 224,000 acres at a total cost of $2.9 billion over 10 years.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that, in view of the need for funds to carry out these programs, we urge the Governor and Legislature to identify a sufficient, stable and permanent source of funding, which is critically needed for the continuation and expansion of the Farmland Preservation Program once the stopgap funding approved by voters in 2009 runs out.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in any future funding, we strongly support continuation of at least the current 40/60 percent funding split for the Farmland Preservation and Green Acres programs.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly oppose any proposal to move farmland preservation acquisition or any of the SADC’s functions to the DEP, on the grounds that such a consolidation would seriously undermine efforts to promote farmland preservation and the agricultural industry, not only in this administration, but in future ones where agriculture may not be a priority.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department to work with New Jersey Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations to increase education of the public about the economic differences between preserving farmland, which is privately managed, and publicly owned and managed open space.
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 FY2012 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 strongly encourage the SADC to institute a requirement that preserved farmland be kept in agricultural enterprise and production, rather than available for agricultural production, to ensure these lands continue to contribute to New Jersey’s agricultural industry, and further we encourage the SADC to establish stewardship requirements for preserved farmland to ensure preserved farmland is properly maintained.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support continued discussion by the SADC’s Deed of Easement Subcommittee to help clarify provisions of the deed of easement so that it is interpreted and enforced consistently and fairly across the state.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the SADC to continue re-examining its list of what activities are permitted on preserved land and to expand, where appropriate, the types of activities that can be permitted, provided they are consistent with the goals of the Farmland Preservation Program and to develop a process which would allow owners of preserved farms, enrolled prior to the current policies, which allow exceptions on preserved farms, to acquire an exception or exceptions consistent with the current policies of the SADC, which provisions will help maintain the ongoing viability of the farm in order to maintain public support for farmland preservation funding, and for the SADC to pursue legislative action to enable such exceptions if development of such a program requires it.
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 Governor and Legislature to maintain administrative funding to support the SADC staff from dedicated farmland preservation funding in order for the SADC to continue to preserve the maximum amount of farmland and ensure the proper monitoring and stewardship of preserved lands.
The preservation of farmland makes good economic sense on many levels:
- It helps preserve the state's agricultural industry, which contributes $1 billion annually in farm gate receipts alone to the state’s economy.
- Preserved farmland remains privately owned and 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.
- 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.
New Jersey voters in November 2009 approved by a 53-47 percent margin a public question that provides $400 million to continue New Jersey’s preservation efforts, including $146 million for farmland preservation. This continued state funding will enable the State of New Jersey to be a full funding partner to match and leverage the significant local funding commitment, however, it first must be appropriated. 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. Counties and municipalities together generate $284 million annually in available preservation funding, which is supplemented by the financial participation of various nonprofit agencies in accomplishing land preservation transactions.
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. For the past five years, in the absence of direct state funding, the SADC has relied on interest earnings from gradually diminishing bond funds, as well as additional monies the Department of Agriculture was able to redirect from cancelled projects in other conservation programs. Those sources are not expected to provide funding in FY2012.
The DEP, in a pre-decisional document publicly circulated in September, has proposed consolidating the SADC’s acquisition functions within its Green Acres Program to “enhance the process, eliminate conflicts, and result in savings for the state.” The State Board of Agriculture opposes any such transfer, which would seriously undermine farmland preservation efforts and New Jersey’s ability to sustain a strong and vital agricultural industry.
The State Board of Agriculture recognizes that many agricultural operations are seeking ways to increase farm profitability by establishing and expanding agritourism-related activities on their farms. Such 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. The State Board of Agriculture supports the efforts of the SADC’s Direct Marketing/Agritourism AMP Working Group and its Deed of Easement Subcommittee to help clarify this issue.
It is the SADC’s role to interpret provisions of the Agriculture Retention and Development Act and the Right to Farm Act, with such interpretations having fundamental impacts on the ability of preserved farmland owners to expand, change and innovate their operations in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.