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Preserving Agriculture in the Garden State

Preserving Agriculture in the Garden State

By Farmer Kurt

I had occasion to drive to Cherry Hill the other evening to attend the welcome banquet to the “2015 National Outstanding Young Farmers Congress” which was hosted by New Jersey this year. The purpose of the annual event is to recognize and present competitive awards to Outstanding Young Farmer finalists from nearly every state in the country. Also in attendance were past state recipients from all around the country. I was fortunate to be selected to represent New Jersey way back in 1988 (I am letting on to my age now) and I was also fortunate that the Congress that year was held in sunny and warm Orlando, Florida. As a side bar another past recipient for New Jersey was Jack Tomasello who owns Tomasello Wineries in Hammonton, NJ, for which we are an exclusive outlet, with his brother Charlie. I enjoyed attending the dinner and it gave me an opportunity to unite with several good farmer friends from both here in the Garden State as well as across the nation.

Our New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, Doug Fisher, was the key note speaker that evening and among many other things Doug outlined the scope of the agricultural industry here in New Jersey. In 1900 there were nearly 2.1 million acres of farmland in the state. Today that number is 800,000 acres of which nearly one third is permanently preserved. The goal is to permanently preserve no less than 500,000 acres which is what we consider in the industry to be the essential mass necessary in order to insure that the farming industry will remain financially viable in the state with all of the necessary services that it requires, including machinery dealers, seed suppliers, fertilizer companies, and more.

His remarks made we think about a lot of things as I traveled home on the Turnpike that evening through Central Jersey. I remember as a kid traveling to Great Adventure down the Turnpike and everything along both sides of the highway from New Brunswick to Trenton was farmland. Large expansive fields full of grain crops and most especially potatoes. Today, you are hard pressed to find a field along that stretch of highway and nearly everywhere you look you see large warehouses and commercial buildings. I value the contribution of commerce and commercial business to New Jersey’s economy and economic well being; but it sure is sad for me to see such a loss of farmland in the state. In fact, the potato industry that once thrived in central New Jersey is long gone and certainly this development has helped contribute to the large loss of farmland that our Secretary of Agriculture was outlining in his remarks.

Yet, as the Secretary noted our industry continues to thrive in the Garden State and it remains the third largest dollar grossing segment in the New Jersey economy. I believe that two very specific public policy decisions have largely contributed to agriculture’s continued viability in our state. The first is the Farmland Assessment Act, passed in 1964, which provides for assessing farm lands for property tax purposes at their crop productive capabilities rather than at their development market values. Some people will suggest that this differential tax rate is a subsidy…but it is not. Farmers pay full property tax rates on their homes and commercial buildings and farmland is the most profitable tax base that municipalities have in New Jersey in terms of the cost of services supplied for each dollar paid. In fact on average approximately 20 cents are delivered in services for each dollar collected…resulting in a net for towns of 80 cents on the dollar. Despite this differential tax New Jersey farmers still pay the highest property taxes in the nation behind only Rhode Island. Yet, our industry knows that it is very likely that there would not be a viable farm segment in New Jersey today without farmland assessment.

The other very important policy decision was the Right To Farm Act and the Farmland Preservation Program put in place in the early 1980’s. The law passed by the legislature actually has Right To Farm and Farmland Preservation combined into one bill as everyone recognized that the preservation of farmland without the preservation of an economically viable industry would have been impossible. I can say with certainty that our family farm business would not be here in New Jersey today had it not been for the farmland preservation program and Right to Farm. I know that this is true for countless other New Jersey farm families as well.

I plan to expand on our participation in the farmland preservation program next week. In the meanwhile….stay warm! And please pray for the protection of our peach buds during these especially cold nights.





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