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Archive for July, 2012

I hate the colloquial on this legislation because I think it degrades small-scale farmers, but there are issues that this bill does do a good job addressing which I discussed in this post Beck Sweeny Bill on Farmland Assessment Clears Budget Committee.

Since I wrote this post the bill has cleared the NJ State Senate and the Star Ledger ran a Sunday Story on the bill.

The article emphasizes the potential loss of up to 398,000 acres of NJ farmland if the minimum agricultural sales required for property tax exemption was raised to $10,000, instead of the $,1000 currently in the bill. Those figures are based on a 2008 study by the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station. That’s almost half of the agricultural acreage in the state, which is a significant component of NJ’s open spaces.

The best part of the bill however are the proof of income requirements and the training that will be required of tax assessors in areas with significant agricultural activity. This should help ferret out some of the more egregious abuses and game-playing while protecting small holdings that are either leased to farmers or farmed by the owners themselves.

The next step is to get rigorous woodlands management plans in place for landowners who make property tax claims on their woodlot operations. That appears to be the area where most of the abuse occurs and is an area that falls outside of the purview of the NJ Department of Agriculture.

Perhaps consolidating all activities pertaining to open space property tax exemptions within the NJ Ag department could make review and enforcement easier. The department is already a significant player in open space management through it’s farmland preservation program and the State Agriculture Development Committee.

The bill goes through the State Assembly in the Fall and then hopefully to the Governor’s desk.

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Two interesting articles about the potential role of local agriculture in regional economic systems. The first from The New York Times: Small Farmers Creating a New Business Model as Agriculture Goes Local focusing mainly on the small farm movement in the Pacific Northwest,

and the second from Gannett:
Rutgers looking to expand farming ‘incubators’ in Central Jersey
.

Both articles are must reads and focus on the development of agriculture and food systems as key drivers of local economies.

The Times story focuses on the emergence of small farms as new loci of employment and economic development. On small farms labor is more likely to be a function of local employment and ownership and less dependent on seasonal migration from Latin America. This doesn’t mean a new nativism or displacement of migrant workers, but rather new opportunities.

The Times story discusses several Hispanic agripreneurs associated with Viva Farms which serves as a farming incubator for the Skagit Valley in Washington State.

In Minnesota a similar agripreneur project is run by the Rural Enterprise Center which is a program of the Mainstreet Project.

I had an opportunity to visit it in 2009 while on an extended trip to Minnesota: Small-Scale Poultry Processing – Rural Revolution in Minnesota? Rebirth in New Jersey?. In 2009 I wrote:

Traditionally, both rural New Jersey and upstate New York were home to small-scale, usually family run, chicken farms that supplied their local communities and immediate regions. Over the last twenty to thirty years many of these operations went out of business or were subsumed by large agribusiness enterprises like Perdue and Tyson. While land is prohibitively more expensive in New Jersey and in those areas of New York with good proximity to urban markets; small-scale, family run chicken farming might be an opportunity for the Garden State’s immigrant population. Many of these older farms in NJ and NY were run by first and second generation Eastern European immigrants and perhaps there’s an opportunity for the areas many Hispanic and Latino immigrants to develop family enterprises using the system being developed in Southern Minnesota.

Closer to home, Gannett reports that Robert Goodman, Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources is hoping to develop new “farming incubators” and food innovation centers in Central New Jersey, most likely in Somerset County. Rutgers already has a food innovation center deep in South Jersey in Bridgeton. According to Gannett, the existing Food Innovation Center at Rutgers has assisted in the development of 40 new food products while serving 1,300 clients and training over 1,000 people since it’s launch in 2001.

This is where New Jersey’s true competitive advantage lies, in the development of small farm enterprises, regional food systems and food innovation networks. With historic and unparallelled access to major urban markets throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, few regions or states can compete with the Garden State when it comes to local agricultural commerce.

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