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Farmland Preservation Program
For Immediate Release: January 13, 2000 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic


Agriculture Secretary Arthur R. Brown, Jr., today denounced recent criticism of the Farmland Preservation Program's land acquisition practices as nothing more than a campaign of disinformation intended to discredit New Jersey's nationally recognized program. Brown is chairman of the State Agriculture Development Committee, which administers the Farmland Preservation Program. "Raising these baseless accusations may serve personal interests, but it certainly does not further the interests of farmland preservation efforts or the citizens of New Jersey who have overwhelmingly supported them," said Brown. Critics have alleged that the Farmland Preservation Program has spent millions of dollars to purchase wetlands that have no value, and that certain landowners have benefited from the program more than others - charges that Brown termed "ridiculous." "If there are wetlands on a farm and they have no value, we don't pay one penny for those wetlands," Brown said. "Secondly, the determination of the purchase price for any farm is based on appraisals from two independent appraisers. It's an objective process that makes it unfair to suggest that one landowner somehow benefited more than another." Brown spoke at the Huff N Puff Farm in Springfield Township, Burlington County. The purchase of that farm, owned by William Pettit, Sr., was among those questioned in a news report. Specifically, Brown pointed out that two independent, licensed appraisers determine the value of any farm that the Farmland Preservation Program considers purchasing. If there are wetlands on a farm, the appraisers determine whether they have any development value. The appraisers adjust the recommended price accordingly. Brown also noted that it is inaccurate to assume that all wetlands have no development value. Wetlands can add value to a property by permitting a developer to further develop upland areas through clustering. They can be used as front and rear setbacks to satisfy zoning requirements. Some wetlands were cleared years ago and have been continually farmed. These agriculturally modified wetlands in some cases may be built upon. "It is important to remember that wetlands do not have absolute protection from development under the law," said Judy Jengo, executive director of the Garden State Preservation Trust. "They only become fully protected once deed restricted. Before this protection is secured, they are vulnerable to development because the law provides for wetlands development permits to be granted in numerous circumstances. "When appraisals are done, less value is nevertheless attributed to the wetlands portion of a piece of property because the development value is likely to be less." As a result, the farmland preservation program does not overcompensate landowners for their property which contains wetlands, she said. "The Farmland Preservation Program is mandated by law to evaluate farms for preservation based on their quality for agricultural purposes," said Gregory Romano, executive director of the State Agriculture Development Committee. "That includes looking at factors like soil quality and the number of tillable acres, the farm size, boundaries and buffers, and the local commitment to agriculture." Because wetlands often can be farmed, the SADC first considers their role in an agricultural setting, evaluating how they benefit the long-term viability of the farm. In the second part of the process, appraisals are conducted to determine the farm's development value, which takes into full consideration any potential development value of the wetlands. "Our goal is to ensure the viability of the agricultural industry by purchasing the best farms available," said Romano. "But let there be no question -- when we buy these farms their purchase prices are based on their development values. That means we look at wetlands and all of the other factors that determine their development values so that we purchase these farms at the best possible prices." The State Agriculture Development Committee, which administers the state's farmland preservation program, is made up of a broad range of interests. Chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, it includes the members from the state Departments of Community Affairs, Treasury, and Environmental Protection, Rutgers University, the general public and farmers. County Agriculture Development Boards which submit the proposed farms to the state for funding are made up of county planning board members, freeholder members, representatives of the Rutgers' Cooperative Extension Service, and the State Soil Conservation Committee, in addition to farm members.

"One of the strengths of our program is the broad diversity of the SADC and CADBs," said Romano. "The members provide strong leadership, a commitment to the state's taxpayers, and a commitment to retaining a strong agriculture industry."