N.J. Voters to Decide Whether to 'Keep It Green'

Campaign gears up for Nov. 6 referendum on ag land preservation funding.

New Jersey Farm Bureau has joined a coalition of conservation groups in a Keep It Green Campaign. The movement seeks to secure continued funding for the Garden State Preservation Trust on the November 6th ballot.

Farmers and landowners have much at stake in the campaign, says New Jersey Farm Bureau President Richard Nieuwenhuis. The $200 million referendum would continue providing property owners fair market value compensation. Historically, agriculture has received a 40% share of the trust funds. The Garden State Preservation Trust addresses preservation numerous ways, including:

  • Maintains working farms, providing property owners fair market value compensation.
  • Protects soil and water resources via best management practices and federal funded programs.
  • Ensures access to locally grown produce and other farm products.
  • Allows for privately maintained open space that's still a tax-paying asset for local government.
  • Assists towns by avoiding consequences of new development – traffic congestion and costly municipal services.

Economic effectiveness confirmed

"Cows don't go to school, but farmers do pay taxes," says Nieuwenhuis. "An acre of farmland preserved and not turned into housing pays for itself in less than two years.

"Farmers also are private stewards of the land – at no cost to taxpayers, once development rights have been acquired. That's preferred to leaving this task to government, which must assume financial responsibility for maintaining preserved open space," he contends.

A recent Rutgers University study found that New Jersey is still losing 50 acres of open space a day. It projects that the state will reach build-out in less than 25 years without help from the open-space trust.

The goal of the State Agriculture Development Committee's is to preserve 600,000 acres and ensure an adequate land base for New Jersey agriculture in the future. To date, 1,600 farms have been enrolled in the preservation program, covering 160,000 acres of permanently protected farmland. That's 17% of the state's nearly 821,000 farmland acres. The 160,000 acres is the highest percentage of deed-restricted farmland in the nation.

How farmland preservation works

"It's not any sort of gift to farmers," says Nieuwenhuis. "Farm properties are tax ratables.
If farming is to remain viable, the state must allocate sufficient funding to divert farmland from development."

Landowners who want to continue farming their land or ensure that any land sold continues in agriculture can sell their development rights to the SADC, counties, municipalities or nonprofit organizations. The sale price is based on the difference between what a developer would pay for the land and what it is worth for agriculture.

It isn't an outright sale for the highest use, where the farmer sells for a greater price. He or she is paid only the easement value – and continues to own and pay taxes on the land. The land can be sold to another farmer, but the deed is restricted to agriculture.

For example, the value of a farm for development might be $12,000 an acre, while the value for agriculture use is only $4,000 an acre. In selling development rights, the farmer would receive a one-time payment of $8,000 per acre and agree to deed-restrict the land to agriculture. A preserved farm has a lower resale value than property that's fully developable.

An alternative is selling the farm outright at fair market value to one of the authorized entities, which in turn can resell it for agricultural use. This can be an effective means to get farmland into the hands of new farmers, who are just starting in agriculture.

For more Keep It Green details, contact Peter Furey or Ed Wengryn at N.J. Farm Bureau. Phone 609-393-7163; fax 609-393-7072; or email [email protected]. Or go to the Web site: www.njfb.org.

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