New Jersey’s farmland preservation program is getting a much-needed financial boost with the signing into law of a four-bill package to invest in retaining agricultural land.
Gov. Chris Christie signed the package on Monday that invests $65.3 million into preserving farmland by allocating money to municipalities, counties, the state, and nonprofit groups to permanently set aside agricultural property.
The money is funneled to recipients from corporate business-tax revenues, a portion of which have been dedicated to preserve open space and farmland in a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014.
The farmland preservation program is designed to bolster the state’s third-largest industry by helping farmers preserve their land for agricultural use.
In the past, the state largely relied on bond issues to finance preservation efforts, but the passage of the constitutional amendment provides a more steady and reliable source of funding.
It has made a big difference to some of the entities depending on state matching funds. “Counties can plan better; municipalities can plan better knowing there is a stable source of funding,’’ said Ed Wengryn, a research associate at the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
“New Jersey has a proud farming heritage that should be protected,’’ added Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Cumberland), a sponsor of one of the bills (A-4580). It would appropriate $2.9 million from the farmland preservation fund to give grants to four nonprofit organizations: Lamington Conservancy, Monmouth Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and the Land Conservancy of New Jersey.
The biggest chunk of the funds will be allocated to the counties, a couple of which have seen preservation efforts stall because they have exhausted their reserves of state matching grants, Wengryn said.
The bill A-4582 allocates $32.5 million to provide planning incent grants for up to 80 percent of the cost of acquisition of development easements on farmland for preservation purposes.
“Preservation not only helps maintain the state’s farming heritage, but contributes to the economy of the state and local communities,’’ said Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak (D-Cape May), a sponsor of the bill.
Another bill (A-4581) provides $22.4 million to the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) for preservation purposes. More than half will go to pay the cost of acquisitions of easements and other titles to protect agricultural land.
The final bill in the package (A-4584) would allocate $7.5 million in incentive grants to municipalities for farmland preservation projects. It will provide grants of up to $500,000 to 19 municipalities.
“Some of the biggest challenges in farming are access to land and capital,’’ said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset), a sponsor of the bill. “This appropriation helps ease that financial burden.’’