TRENTON, N.J. – Hailed by agricultural leaders as the “single most important positive piece of legislation,” Assemblymen Alex Sauickie and Rob Clifton’s bill promising fairer farmland assessments conducted for preservation was signed into law Monday.
“This legislation is easily a home run and helps level the playing field for farmers,” Sauickie (R-Ocean) said in testimony during a Senate committee meeting last year. “It will help the state meet its goal to preserve 500,000 acres of farmland and keeps the Garden State the state that it should be.”
The bill (A4729) makes changes to the Farmland Preservation Program’s appraisal formula to include other relevant factors such as the value of farmland in nearby towns and counties and the importance of preserving farmland in the area. The State Agriculture Development Committee, which oversees the preservation program, would be required to use the appraisal process that results in the higher value as the basis for negotiations with the landowner.
According to a Rutgers analysis, real estate values increased by 3% a year, peaking at 15% in 2021, while easement values decreased by 20%.
“Reconsidering the appraisal process is vital to the future of farmland preservation in New Jersey,” Clifton (R-Monmouth) said. “The preservation program is an investment in the Garden State. Farmers deserve to know they are making a wise financial decision.”
Brian Wilson, the administrator for the Burlington County Agriculture Development Board, said he has been involved in the state’s farmland preservation program for 18 years and sees the legislation having a great impact.
“I believe that this legislation is perhaps the single most important positive piece of legislation to come around in my 18 years here,” Wilson said in a committee hearing on the bill. “It will certainly lead to an increase in both the numbers of applicants for the farmland preservation program and the number of farms that will be preserved here in the immediate future.”
In addition, one high-ranking agriculture official said the new law will be a “national game-changer,” likely to be copied by other states.
The bill is supported by the New Jersey Farm Bureau, North Hanover Township, Jackson Township Council, the Burlington County Agriculture Development Board, the Ocean County Agriculture Development Board, and the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.
Since the program’s inception 40 years ago, New Jersey has preserved 248,009 acres of farmland.