State’s farms, farming acres, productivity all on rise
MONTCLAIR — It is the 11th most populated state in the nation, one where farm property values and real estate taxes rank among the priciest in the country.
Yet the number of New Jersey farms and the acreage used for farming have increased together for the first time in recorded USDA history since 1978.
The number of farms has according to the USDA’s 2017 Agricultural Census increased to nearly 10,000 and a total of around 734,000 acres.
The 3-percent acreage increase since the 2012 census is nearly double what the USDA reports is a nationwide average 1.6 percent decline. Productivity is also up.
New Jersey Spotlight published an Aug. 16 multimedia report, “Farming Flourishes in the Garden State,” detailing incentives that New Jersey offers those who farm the region.
One of the most notable is a Farmland Assessment Act that allows land used for agriculture or horticulture to be assessed at its productivity, rather than its development, value.
Land owners must use the land for agricultural or horticultural purposes for at least two years before the tax year and maintain minimum gross sales of products from the land that average at least $1,000 per year for the first 5 acres and $5 per acre for each additional acre.
Woodlands and wetlands pay the reduced property tax rate in instances where they gross an average of $500 annually for the first five acres and $.50 per acre beyond that or if there is clear evidence of anticipated yearly gross sales, payments, or fees within a reasonable period of time dependent upon the agricultural or horticultural products being produced.
New Jersey in April 2013 amended the Farmland Assessment Act so that farmers for the property tax year beginning in 2015 for their first five acres began having to meet the $1,000 gross sales where the requirement was formerly $500.
If their properties are included in a Woodland Management Plan, the gross sales requirement remained at $500 for the first five acres.
New Jersey’s farms are largely family-owned and, at an average 74 rather than 441 acres, are smaller than most of the rest of the nation, New Jersey Spotlight Editor Colleen O’Dea pointed out.
The state nevertheless ranks first in the nation in eggplant production and third in cranberries and peaches, and sales are at $5.2 million, $41 million and $15.8 million respectively, according to the 2017 Agricultural Census.
Nursery sales rank fifth nationwide, and sales of nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod products lead at the state level. Sales in that sector were at nearly $500 million as of the 2017 Agricultural Census, an increase of nearly $100 million from 2012. New Jersey in 2006 ranked seventh in that category.
The fruit and vegetable industry, at nearly $364 million in sales, was up $27 million since the 2012 agricultural census.
Other industries that showed increases included horses, ponies, mules and donkeys up $10 million; other crops and hay up $10 million; cattle and calves up $2 million; and cultivated Christmas trees with an increase of $1 million. Decreases were seen in grain, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas and in poultry and eggs.
“Farming Flourishes in the Garden State” is designed to let people know that there’s still a reason to call New Jersey a Garden State, O’Dea said.
O’Dea served as General Assignment Reporter for the report that began when NJTV News Producer Lindsay Rassmann discovered a 40-year-old video on YouTube about the loss of New Jersey farmland, O’Dea said.
The USDA’s 2017 Agricultural Census was released while the project was under way, O’Dea said.
The publication owned by public television station WNET plans to continue the conversation by asking readers to share their favorite farm visits or markets.
NJ Spotlight has also received requests for a link to how to find farms to visit for pleasure and to buy fresh, local items, O’Dea said.
For more information, visit www.njfarmland.org.
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