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Agriculture Secretary Defends State Farmland Preservation Program
For Immediate Release: March 27, 2000 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic


Agriculture Secretary Art Brown today joined Assembly Speaker Jack Collins and Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chair Jack Gibson in expressing support for the state Farmland Preservation Program. Secretary Brown is chair of the State Agriculture Development Committee, which administers the state Farmland Preservation Program. Specifically, he pointed out the following: 1) The Farmland Preservation Program uses an objective process to select farms for preservation. The main goal of farmland preservation is to ensure the survivability of New Jersey's economically valuable agricultural industry. The only way to do that is to preserve large, contiguous blocks of farmland that protect agricultural operations from the pressures of surrounding development. The Farmland Preservation Program, which is mandated by law to evaluate farms for preservation based on their agricultural productivity, uses a point system to rank all applicant farms according to how well they meet the agricultural criteria. Most New Jersey farms have some degree of wetlands - some of them quite valuable to agricultural production. Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that farms with wetlands have no place in the Farmland Preservation Program. How much the program pays to acquire development rights on those farms is an entirely separate issue. 2) The Farmland Preservation Program uses an objective process to determine development values. In most cases, the state purchases the development easement on a farm - or the landowner's right to develop the property for anything other than agricultural purposes. The value of that easement -- known as the development value -- is the difference between what a developer would pay for the property and what it is worth solely for agriculture. Development values for every farm under consideration are determined through an appraisal process - just like the state Green Acres Program and every other state farmland preservation program in the country. Two appraisals by licensed independent appraisers are required for each farm. If a farm contains wetlands or any other development limitations, the program's regulations mandate that the appraisers must make downward adjustments in price. Their value recommendations are reviewed by a third SADC staff appraiser. The SADC certifies a final development value based on the professional judgement of these three appraisers. If a farm had limited development value, that would be reflected in a substantially lower purchase price. If it had no development value, the purchase price would be zero. The appraisal process - particularly the oversight provided by the state review appraiser - prevents any individual from unfairly benefiting from the program, said Brown. "The bottom line is that we have an objective process for determining fair-market value, and we pay nothing more than that value," said Brown. "In fact, we often pay less through a sealed-bid process that allows landowners to discount their prices to improve chances that their farms will be preserved. This discounting process has resulted in savings of more than $25 million over the past 10 years." 3) The Farmland Preservation Program takes into account septic suitability when determining development values. Septic suitability is one of the factors examined through the appraisal process. Appraisers rely on county soil surveys and recent comparable sales - including those with the same or similar soils - to determine development potential. This standard procedure provides sufficient information to make value determinations without requiring soil boring tests. "Neither the Green Acres Program nor any other state farmland preservation program in the nation that I know of requires such tests," said Secretary Brown. "All rely on the same standard appraisal process that utilizes readily available technical resources, including county soil surveys and state wetlands maps. In fact, our requirements for two appraisals - plus a state appraiser review - are more stringent than some other states that require only one appraisal." The Farmland Preservation Program will continue its efforts to preserve an additional 500,000 acres of farmland over the next decade - a goal overwhelmingly supported by New Jersey voters, said Brown. "Anyone has the right to question how taxpayer dollars are being spent," said Brown. "What concerns me is the unwillingness to do so objectively. It is unfortunate that because of this, a fine program continues to be maligned."