Event panel discusses alternatives to buying farmland
NEW BRUNSWICK — Access to land is one of the biggest issues young farmers talk about in New Jersey, so it was only natural the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference would have a workshop on alternatives to buying land.
Dave Kimmell of the State Agriculture Development Committee was one of the presenters at the workshop on Alternative Farming Opportunities. “
We often hear leasing is more cost effective,” he said.
SADC’s LandLink program and the Foodshed Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Enterprises have leasing opportunities for farmers.
They expect young farmers to get experience working on another farm in order to know they are ready to take on a business of their own, Kimmel emphasized, but they will help those farmers acquire the land they need.
Leasing makes farming possible for many young entrepreneurs in New Jersey which has the second highest per acre cost in the country.
Even preserved property can cost up to $5,700 per acre while leasing can cost $128 per acre per year for irrigated property.
Barns, greenhouses and deer fencing can increase that cost, but it is still more economical than buying.
One-third of the 734,000 active farming acres in the state are farmed by non-owners, Kimmell said.
He noted many existing rental agreements in New Jersey are on a handshake basis without clarifying how much the owner will interfere or even how much the owner understands about farming.
He said a formal lease is much better for all parties.
Kimmel introduced a farmer with a successful leased operation.
Dave Zelov farms portion of the 74-acre property he leases in Wantage Township right near the New York and Pennsylvania borders called Kittatinny Mountain Farm. He said he’s been leasing for 10 years.
“It’s not an ideal piece of farmland,” he said, describing it as being on the side of a mountain with a lot of rocks, but he’s making it works, with three part-time seasonal employees and five people doing workshares. He grows 150 varieties of 50 crops, selling vegetables, herbs, flowers and seedlings at two farm markets and to 50 CSA members. H
e’s now making a living at it and bought a house nearby.
Zelov leases the land from a garden center owner, but the Foodshed Alliance is operating the SAgE program with 80 acres in Andover and Fredon townships, Eric Derby of the Foodshed Alliance board explained.
The property is owned by the Nature Conservancy, Derby noted, but that groups is re-evaluating its commitment to land ownership and plans on concentrating on land restoration. SAgE is leasing out five- and 10-acre plots
Derby explained the Foodshed Alliance was born out of Genesis Farm, an organic farm and learning center in the village of Marksboro in Frelinghuysen Township, Warren County. The alliance runs a famers’ market and holds programs for farmers. SagE was Derby’s brainchild.
The newest tenant on the SAgE farm is Sussex County Community College.
Professor Erin Collins explained the school has a one-year certificate in sustainable gardening and an agribusiness and horticultural science program as well as an agribusiness internship program.
They want to do small grains, cut flowers and mushroom logs, she said.
The agriculture marketing class is looking to sell product to students, faculty and staff.
SCCC has a culinary program and student products can be used in the event cafeteria, she said.
Students can learn hands-on in the field while studying budgeting, production, management and risk planning.
Derby explained the SAgE property is not suited to large livestock on its 66 tillable acres. There are some natural sinkhole ponds on the rest.
He noted Duke Farms is once again renting some land.
Some of the audience member are farming already and others are planning for the future.
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