Tuesday, October 9, 2012

200,000 Acres Preserved!

We hope they are not just blowing smoke up our skirts when they say land preservation is a non-partisan issue.

This article originally appeared on PhillyBurbs.com.

County lauded as farmland preservation leader as state saves 200,000th acre

As the Garden State celebrated the milestone of preserving its 200,000th acre of farmland Tuesday, Burlington County was recognized as a leader in the race to protect it.
Burlington is the leader in the number of preserved farms and the total farmland acreage saved under the county grants program of the state's Farmland Preservation Program, state officials said. It also ranks among the top 10 in the country for preserved farmland.

To date, Burlington County has preserved 171 farms and a total of 21,191 acres through the program. The county ranks third in the state, behind Salem and Hunterdon, when all state preservation programs are considered.

New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher recognized the county’s efforts Tuesday during a ceremony in Upper Pittsgrove, Salem County, where he and farmland preservation leaders celebrated the 200,000th acre preserved statewide.

The Cassaday Farm, one of the largest vegetable farms in the state, became the latest of more than 2,000 preserved farms in New Jersey.

“The preservation of 200,000 acres of farmland is an extraordinary achievement that underscores New Jersey’s continued reputation as a national leader in farmland preservation,” Fisher said. “This accomplishment would not have been possible without the strong commitment of all the farmland preservation partners — all levels of government, the nonprofit community, farm owners and the voters, who have consistently supported farmland preservation funding.”
More than 10 percent of the 200,000 acres is in Burlington County, which began its preservation efforts in 1985 and has been supported since 1996 by a dedicated tax overwhelmingly approved by voters at the polls.
The county currently collects a voter-approved 4 cents per $100 of assessed property value to support its program of farmland and historic preservation, open space acquisition and park development.
Through its highly ranked and well-regarded program, the county buys the development rights to farmland, deed-restricts the property to eliminate the threat of residential or commercial development, and then auctions the land to return it to private ownership and agricultural production. Proceeds of the sale help replenish the fund for future acquisitions.
“Agriculture contributes mightily to the economy in Burlington County, so preserving farmland preserves farming as an industry,” said Bruce Garganio, director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, on Tuesday. “At the same time, it’s been proven time and again that saving farmland, and keeping it on the property tax rolls, saves tax dollars, especially if the alternative is sprawling residential development.”
The State Agriculture Development Committee administers New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program, which was established in 1983. The first farms were saved in 1985.
The county has been aggressively pursuing farmland since 1985, when the threat of development of 500 acres in Chesterfield sparked the freeholders to take action.
“They were really concerned about the rapid pace of development and loss of farmland in the county,” said Mary Pat Robbie, director of the county's Department of Resource Conservation. “The pace of acquisition really picked up after 1996, when voters approved the first tax.”
While the county has set aside about 22,000 acres as part of the state Farmland Preservation Program, it has saved a total of about 25,000 acres when other programs are considered, including preserved Pinelands farms and those protected under the transfer of development rights (TDR) program, Robbie said.
“Our goal is to preserve 40,000 acres,” she said. “We’re getting close, and there is still a lot of interest. We probably have about 2,500 acres in the pipeline right now. Burlington County has always been looked upon as leaders in farmland preservation and something we can all be proud of.”

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