New Jersey lawmakers are funneling money to keep farmers in business in the Garden State. The state aid comes from three bills approved this week. Millions of dollars will go to counties and municipalities across the state for farmland preservation, including nearby Warren and Hunterdon Counties.
Every year it gets harder and harder for farms to stay in business in New Jersey. The green acres are traded for green backs, which usually spells sprawling developments.
"Agribusiness is diminishing in New Jersey because it's more and more difficult to be a farmer, a successful farmer," explained Assemblyman John DiMaio.
That's where farmland preservation comes in. It's a program where the government buys the farm's development rights, restricting the land's use to farming. DiMaio says the program keeps land open, pays taxes and the farmers still work the property.
"We can then depend on them to maintain the land and keep the agribusiness active and vital in New Jersey," he added.
The bills approved this week provide funding from the voter-approved 2009 Farmland Preservation Fund.
"Warren County received a grant from the SADC for $1-million base grant and $5-million competitive grant," said Land Preservation Department Director Corey Tierney.
Six municipalities will also get $500,000 each. Warren County has preserved more than 500 acres of farmland this year, totaling about 20,000 acres. Tierney with the Land Preservation Department says they've helped more than 200 farming families stay in business.
"A lot of the farmers use the proceeds from preservation," he said. "They reinvest it into their operations whether it's to buy more equipment, additional land or supplies."
Not to mention maintaining the rural character of the community, and making agriculture a viable industry.
"Currently we have 25 applications for 1,600 acres pending, so there's certainly an interest and a need for continuing this farmland preservation program."
Officials hope to preserve another 16,000 acres in Warren County over the next ten years. But there is concern over support of the program, lawmakers say something needs to be done soon to secure more funding or the program as it stands now could change.