Gardens Leaving Garden State
June 11th, 2004 by Chris Sturm
- The Garden State lost more than 120 farms and 51,227 acres of farmland in the five years ending in 2002, according to Census figures released last week, the highest rate of loss in the past 20 years.
- Farms that remain on average are also shrinking in size. Today’s average farm size is 81 acres, compared with 111 acres just 20 years ago. Almost half of the state’s farms (45 percent) operate on fewer than 50 acres.
- Southern New Jersey offers an exception to the trend, with some southern counties showing an increase in farmland for the same period. Burlington County is the biggest gainer, with an increase of almost 8,000 acres.
(Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Census)
REGIONAL PLANING AND TDR CAN STEM FARMLAND LOSS
Burlington County is the state’s leader when it comes to keeping the “garden” in Garden State. This is due in part to the fact that portions of the county’s farmland are protected by the Pinelands regional plan; a lion’s share of the credit goes also to the county’s varied and proactive farmland preservation strategies.
Such strategies include active Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs in two municipalities: Lumberton and Chesterfield Township. TDR allows the transfer of development rights from historic, natural, or farming areas to other areas where construction is desired. Private investors, usually developers, reimburse the farmer for the development “credits” used elsewhere, in exchange for permanent preservation of the farmland.
Burlington County has used TDR to preserve nearly 1,200 acres in the past five years, with little or no public expenditure. The same land would have cost taxpayers an estimated $6 million if purchased through the Farmland Preservation Program.
TDR is available to all towns beginning in September. It is disappointing that a last-minute amendment was added to the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act that requires a TDR pilot program in the Highlands before a regional program can be established there. No more pilots are needed. Burlington County, the original TDR pilot, proves that TDR works.