June 9, 2023

Ag leaders say Sauickie’s farmland appraisal bill ‘single most important positive piece of legislation’

A group of individuals standing in front of a committee dais with the U.S. and New Jersey flags in the background.
(LTR) Honorable Greg Westfall, former mayor of Allentown Borough; Ronald DeBaecke Jr., North Hanover Township committeeman; Anna Trapani, Millstone Township farmer; Assemblyman Alex Sauickie; Ed Wengryn, New Jersey Farm Bureau; Paul Hlubik, State Board of Agriculture member; Brian Wilson, Burlington County Agriculture Development Board Executive Director.

TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblyman Alex Sauickie’s bill promising fairer farmland assessments conducted for preservation was unanimously approved by a Senate panel this week where it earned the praise of agricultural leaders.

“This legislation is easily a home run and helps level the playing field for farmers,” Sauickie (R-Ocean) said in testimony during the Senate committee hearing Thursday. “It will help the state meet its goal to preserve 500,000 acres of farmland and keeps the Garden State the state that it should be.”

The bill (A4729) makes changes to the Farmland Preservation Program’s appraisal formula to include other relevant factors such as the value of farmland in nearby towns and counties and the importance of preserving farmland in the area. The State Agriculture Development Committee, which oversees the preservation program, would be required to use the appraisal process that results in the higher value as the basis for negotiations with the landowner.

Two individuals sitting at a desk with microphones to provide committee testimony.
Paul Hlubik, Member of the State Board of Agriculture (left) and Ed Wengryn, New Jersey Farm Bureau, providing testimony on A4729 at the Senate Economic Growth Committee hearing on June 8, 2023.

Paul Hlubik, of the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture, cited a Rutgers analysis in his testimony to compare farmland value to real estate. The 20 years of data in the study revealed a 20% decrease in easement values while real estate values increased by 3% a year, peaking at 15% in 2021, he said.

“I am keenly aware of growers in my surrounding community hoping to preserve but suffering from inordinately low skewed appraisals due to current methods,” Hlubik said. “It’s imperative that we focus on farmland preservation efforts today, not several decades into the future, if we wish to preserve those farms worth preserving.”

Brian Wilson, the administrator for the Burlington County Agriculture Development Board, said he has been involved in the state’s farmland preservation program for 18 years and sees the legislation having a great impact.

“I believe that this legislation is perhaps the single most important positive piece of legislation to come around in my 18 years here,” Wilson said. “It will certainly lead to an increase in both the numbers of applicants for the farmland preservation program and the number of farms that will be preserved here in the immediate future.”

Three individuals sitting at a desk with microphones to give committee testimony.
Brian Wilson, Executive Director, Burlington County Agriculture Development Board (left); Ronald DeBaecke Jr., Committeeman, North Hanover Township (center); and the Honorable Gregory Westfall, former mayor of Allentown Borough, speaking at the Senate Economic Growth Committee hearing on A4729.

The bill is also supported by the North Hanover and Jackson Township councils, the Ocean County Agriculture Development Board, and the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.

“This measure is an investment in the Garden State. It ensures farmers are getting a fair deal and purchase offers reflect the true value of their land. As it already passed the Assembly unanimously, I look forward to its passage in the Senate and encourage the governor to sign it into law as soon as it gets to his desk,” Sauickie said.