There was a study, called “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States”, that finished up two years ago which focused on farmland loss across the country. Conducted by the American Farmland Trust (AFT), a national non-profit that focuses on preserving and protecting the nation’s farmland, it was the first report ever to provide a state-by-state analysis of farmland preservation policies. And which state came out on top? Illinois? Kansas? Nope. It was New Jersey.

Yes, the much-maligned Garden State, target of so many landfill jokes that mainly center around what people see from Newark Airport.

But that’s not an accurate portrayal. Drive around the state and you will see all the evidence to the contrary. You’ll also likely see one of the many plots of preserved farmland with this sign on the property:

Credit: Garden State Preservation Trust

New Jersey gets such high marks because of its ability to effectively coordinate state and local governments, a key metric when it comes to protecting farmland. It also wins because of the work done by the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC) through their State Farmland Preservation program.

What comes out of this relationship between the state and SADC is a set of policies that ensure farmland is continually prioritized and preserved. They include:

  • Requiring counties and municipalities adopt comprehensive farmland Preservation plans to receive stage funding
  • Creation of Agricultural Development Areas which encourage NJ counties to protect and support farms that form large contiguous areas of protected farmland
  • NJ’s Farmland Assessment law, enabling farmland owners to pay property taxes based on a farm’s agricultural value instead of its development value
  • The state’s efforts to give farmers access to state-owned farmland through agricultural leased
  • NJ’s “Land Link” program, a web-based tool that helps farmers looking to find new properties to farm and landowners seeking farmers, to connect and create new farming opportunites

New Jersey started out as the breadbasket for the early colonies and it is remarkable that almost 300 years later it has such a rich agricultural economy.

Unfortunately, the same report found that it also ranks 3rd among states most threatened by development, a dubious distinction, to be sure. So it’s a good thing we have the SADC, and it’s even better that the state government is their friend. They’re going to need the help.