Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Celeste Riley to ease some of the cost burdens for cranberry and blueberry harvesters in the Garden State was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.
“Some of our environmental regulations and associated costs have the potential to render cranberry production in New Jersey economically non-viable,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/ Salem). “We need to do everything possible to maintain our reputation as the Garden State by helping cranberry and blueberry operations stay alive and thrive. The last thing we want to see are multi-generational family farms being forced to consider leaving New Jersey for places like the Eastern Canadian provinces.”
The bill (A-1958) would designate agricultural fields, such as blueberry fields and cranberry bogs, as “active” if any combination of crop production, maintenance, or renovation has taken place on the field within five years. This move would significantly reduce the costs associated with New Jersey’s stringent environmental standards for anyone wishing to restart cranberry or blueberry operations on an existing field.
Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) considers any cranberry bog that has been un-harvested for five years to be abandoned.
Riley noted that reactivating the bog requires an Individual Wetlands Permit, something that is very expensive to apply for and is rarely granted. The cranberry expansion permit includes mitigation costs of up to $30,000 per acre and far exceeds all other normal costs of new cranberry bog construction. This has prompted a number of multi-generational family farms to consider leaving New Jersey for the Eastern Canadian provinces.
In addition, the bill would provide that the lack of a commercial harvest or production of a crop on an agricultural field would not be a determining factor in designating the agricultural field as abandoned and, therefore, the department would be required to issue the necessary permits to any owner of an agricultural field that had previously been lawfully used for the production of cranberries, or lawfully maintained or renovated for that purpose.
The bill also requires the DEP to issue the necessary permits or letters of exemption for cranberry production when the department determines within the 25 years prior to the bill’s enactment the agricultural field to be abandoned because it had not produced a crop for five years, even if it was being maintained or renovated for agricultural purposes at the time of its designation as abandoned.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.