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Most farms, most acres preserved, most municipalities involved – however you measure it, Warren County was tops in New Jersey last year in farmland preservation.

Members of the Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders and county officials involved in preserving farms say the 2008 summary from the New Jersey State Agriculture Development Committee shows Warren County’s dedication to protecting farming and farmland here.

Of the 142 farms preserved in New Jersey last year, 32 of them – or 22.5 percent – were in Warren County. Following Warren was Hunterdon County with 25 farms and Monmouth with 23.

Those 32 Warren farms comprised 2,119 acres of the 12,405 acres protected in New Jersey last year. That’s also the most acres preserved in any single county last year, with Salem County following with 2,105 acres preserved and Sussex next with 1,635 acres.

And the farms were located in all corners of Warren County. Of the 22 municipalities in Warren County, 17 are in the County’s agriculture development area, more than in any other county in the state. In the 2008 funding round, preservation deals were completed in 11 of those 17 municipalities.

Hunterdon County listed 12 of its 26 municipalities in its agriculture development area, followed by Sussex with 11 of its 24 municipalities involved in farmland preservation.

Of New Jersey’s 21 counties, 13 of them completed farmland preservation projects in 2008.

“It shows the dedication of the freeholder board along with members of the County Agriculture Development Board in our continuing effort to keep Warren County open and green,” Warren County Freeholder Director Richard D. Gardner said. “I feel very pleased by the aggressive pursuit by our Land Preservation Department in bringing these acquisitions to fruition,” he added.

Joel Schnetzer, a Franklin Township dairy farmer who chairs the Warren County Agriculture Development Board, said the preservation program is “fortunate to have continually excellent freeholder support. That’s the main ingredient.”

Schnetzer noted that farmland preservation in Warren County is allocated 55 percent of the county’s available open space, farmland and historic preservation funds. “We don’t take it for granted that we get the majority of the money,” Schnetzer said. “We try to spend the money as wisely as possible.”

Since 1993, Warren County residents have voted time and again on public referenda to establish a preservation trust fund and then to increase the amount of the tax collected to finance it. Currently, Warren County property owners pay a tax of 6 cents on every $100 of property they own, with the money dedicated to protecting open space, historic resources and farmland.

Gardner and his colleagues on the board, Freeholder Everett A. Chamberlain and Freeholder John DiMaio, pointed out the many important aspects to preserving open space by protecting farmland. Chamberlain noted that saving farmland preserves Warren County’s rural atmosphere and keeps a viable agricultural economy in the county.

 

 

 

“It’s easier for farmers to stay in business if their neighbor does,” Gardner agreed, explaining that agriculture-related businesses, such as seed and equipment suppliers and others that rely on farmers, will stay in the area if they have enough customers to keep going.

DiMaio noted that preserving farmland avoids the potential traffic impacts and higher taxes that result from increased development.

Chamberlain added that preserved farmland provides wildlife habitat, water recharge areas, and unlike some other types of open space – such as government-owned parkland – stays on the tax rolls.

“The number of farms and the amount of land that has gone into the preservation program in 2008 is an indication of the amount of effort this freeholder board has put into the program,” Chamberlain said. “It is definitely moving us closer to achieving our goal of preserving 20,000 acres by 2010. The freeholders very much support the program,” Chamberlain noted.

To date, Warren County has preserved 17,289 acres of farmland, while another 3,500 acres are in the process of being protected.

Farms preserved in Warren County last year encompass a variety of agricultural areas, including raising raise beef cattle, sheep, goats, horses, field crops and Christmas trees.

County Agriculture Development Board Vice Chairman Samuel Race said Warren County has taken a major step forward to creating a viable agriculture industry. Interest by farmers in preserving their land is on the upswing, Race said, and Warren County’s agricultural scene is becoming more varied, with increases in farms that sell directly to the consumer, such as pick-your-own operations and ones with roadside markets.

 “In addition to the freeholders’ positive approach on funding this program, we’ve got a very aggressive committee and a Land Preservation Department that’s interested in maximizing the amount of farms in the program,” Race noted.

“The credit really has to go to the freeholders for putting up the dough. They’ve really stepped up to the plate,” said Bob Resker, administrator of the Warren County Department of Land Preservation.

Resker said that of the 32 farms preserved in Warren County last year, two were projects closed directly with the State Agriculture Development Committee, while 20 used Planning Incentive Grants or PIGs, a program where a municipality submits one application for several farms to the county for county and state funding. The remaining projects were through the traditional program where a farmer applies directly to the county to sell his development rights, while in one case a nonprofit received local, county and state dollars to partially fund a preservation project.

“I’m really happy about this. It tells you we’ve got a good working relationship with the municipalities, doing their PIGs; with nonprofits; and with the state. We’ve got a strong, ongoing program,” Resker remarked.

According to Resker, it cost a total of $16.791 million to preserve the Warren County farms last year. Of that amount, $4.579 million was financed by county government, $2.666 million by the municipalities and $9.545 million by the state.

Statewide, nearly $166 million was spent last year on farmland preservation, with $102 million coming from state funds and the rest from municipalities, counties, the federal government and nonprofit organizations.

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