There are two interesting stories in today's Courier News about the New Jersey farmland assessment program. State Senator Jennifer Beck from Monmouth County is once again calling on lawmakers to reform the outdated program whereby property owners with as few as 5 acres of land can get a significant tax break - up to 98% off! - by selling as little as $500 worth of farm products.
Senator Beck goes so far as to call these people "fake farmers". I think she may be right.
The key statistic for me - and these stories were full of stats - is that people are paying up to $1 million per acre for some of these "farms" - and paying just a few dollars in taxes. Obviously, the land's value doesn't derive from being a farm. It's value is as a buffer for a grand estate, or as a potential development. Take a look at this farm for sale in Titusville to see what I mean.
There is a simple first step that NJ lawmakers can take to fix this broken system. The $500 threshold was created in 1964. Simply allowing for inflation would raise that number to $3500. At that amount, a property owner might have to have some sort of real operation - some kind of "real farming" - and not just a half dozen beehives, or a couple of alpacas.