(TRENTON) – A six-bill legislative package sponsored by Assemblymen Bob Andrzejczak, Andrew Zwicker, Eric Houghtaling, Vince Mazzeo and Adam Taliaferro to get younger people to pursue careers in farming and reinvigorate the state’s aging agricultural industry was released Thursday by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
According to the latest available data, the average age of the principal operator of a farm in New Jersey has risen from 57 years in 2007 to 59 years in 2012. A similar trend is occurring nationally. The sponsors of the legislative package are concerned that if this trend continues, farming in New Jersey will not survive. They are proposing several measures to protect the state’s agricultural industry.
“Our farmers are getting older and there isn’t a crop of younger farmers following in their footsteps,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), who chairs the committee. “It is important that we make the necessary investments to fill the void that threatens our agricultural industry. These measures tailored to train and support young and beginning farmers will help ensure that agriculture continues to be a major industry in the state, in both the near and distant future.”
The first bill (A-4489), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Zwicker, Houghtaling, Mazzeo and Taliaferro, would require the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), in consultation and cooperation with the State Agriculture Development Committee, the New Jersey Farm Bureau, the county boards of agriculture, Rutgers the State University, the New Jersey Agricultural Society, and any other appropriate agricultural, horticultural, or educational entities in the State, to develop and implement a beginning farmer mentoring program by which experienced farmers would provide guidance, advice, and other appropriate assistance to beginning farmers.
The bill would also authorize the NJDA to partner with appropriate public or private organizations or entities to accomplish the purposes of the bill, including entering into agreements or contracts to operate the program, in whole or in part, under the department’s general supervision.
“Established farmers have a wealth of knowledge that should be tapped into as we look for ways to invigorate the industry,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex/Hunterdon). “This mentorship program can help ensure that as our more experienced farmers retire there are farmers capable and ready to take their place.”
The second bill (A-4490), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Zwicker, Houghtaling and Taliaferro, would provide corporation business tax and gross income tax credits to persons hiring beginning farmers to perform custom farming.
Specifically, for privilege periods and taxable years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017, a taxpayer that executes a custom farming contract with a qualified beginning farmer, and meets the requirements of the bill and the regulations adopted by the NJDA would be entitled to a tax credit. The amount of the tax credit would be calculated based on the gross amount paid to the farmer under the custom farming contract. No tax credit would be allowed if the taxpayer and the farmer are persons who hold a legal or equitable interest in the same agricultural land, or family members
The third bill (A-4491), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Zwicker, Houghtaling, Mazzeo and Taliaferro, would establish the “New Farmers Improvement Grant Program” in the NJDA to provide matching grants for farm improvements to beginning farmers investing in diversification of their farming operations and innovations for the sustainability of those operations.
The fourth bill (A-4492), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Zwicker, Houghtaling and Taliaferro, would require the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), in consultation with the NJDA, to develop and administer a beginning farmer loan program to facilitate the acquisition of agricultural land, agricultural improvements, or depreciable agricultural property.
To qualify for a loan, a beginning farmer would have to meet the following requirements: (1) the farmer must be a resident of the state; (2) the agricultural land, agricultural improvements, or depreciable agricultural property the farmer proposes to purchase must be located in the state; (3) the farmer must have sufficient education, training, or experience in the type of farming for which the farmer requests the loan; (4) if the loan is for the acquisition of agricultural land, the farmer must have access to adequate working capital, farm equipment, machinery, or livestock; (5) if the loan is for the acquisition of depreciable agricultural property, the farmer must have access to adequate working capital or agricultural land; (6) the farmer must materially and substantially participate in farming; (7) the agricultural land and agricultural improvements must only be used for farming by, or under the direction of, the farmer; and (8) any other criteria established by the authority pursuant to regulation.
“Starting and maintaining a farming operation is not cheap,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “These measures provide farmers who are just getting started with the financial resources necessary to develop and grow their businesses. This benefits the farmers and the industry.”
“Building a business takes money. Farming is no different,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Making loans and grants available can help these newer farming operations thrive. If we are serious about protecting our agricultural heritage, we must invest in the new generation of farmers.”
The fifth bill (A-4493), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Zwicker, Mazzeo, Houghtaling and Taliaferro, would establish the Garden State Young Farmers Loan Redemption Program within the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to incentivize individuals to begin a career in farming. The program would provide for the redemption of a portion of the eligible student loan expenses of program participants for each year of full-time employment as a farmer.
To be eligible to participate in the program, an applicant must: be a resident of the state and maintain domicile in the state during participation in the program; have successfully completed an approved course of study within a two-year period prior to applying for the program; have an outstanding balance with a state or federal student loan program and not be in default on any student loan; and operate, or plan to operate, a farm in the state on a full-time basis. A program participant will enter into a written contract with HESAA to participate in the program. The contract will specify the duration of the applicant’s required operation of a farm, which will be no less than five years, and the total amount of eligible student loan expenses to be redeemed by the state in return for service.
The last bill (A-4494), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Zwicker, Houghtaling and Taliaferro, would provide corporation business tax and gross income tax credits to persons leasing agricultural land to beginning farmers. Specifically, for privilege periods and taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2017, a taxpayer that executes an agricultural assets transfer agreement with a qualified beginning farmer, that meets the requirements of the bill and the regulations adopted by the Department of Agriculture would be entitled to a tax credit.
The amount of the tax credit issued would depend on whether the lease is made on a cash basis or a commodity share basis, and whether or not the qualified beginning farmer is a veteran.
“There is a proud history of farming in many of our communities,” said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Preserving a viable agricultural base in the state preserves this legacy and ensures that there is sufficient fresh, locally grown produce and other agricultural products available for the public to consume and enjoy.”
The bills were released by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.