Burzichelli Bill to Facilitate Farming Processes Now Law

Legislation Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli sponsored to facilitate operations for the agriculture industry in New Jersey has been signed into law.

The law (A-3124) amends a state statute to exempt certain temporary farm structures from permit and transition area requirements under the “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.”

Under the law, the installation of temporary farm structures, including hoophouses and polyhouses, is now categorized as “normal farming activity” – as are plowing, seeding and cultivating land – and thus exempt from the provisions of the “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.”

“Given the changes in agricultural processes over the last quarter-century, we must adapt accordingly,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “With nursery crops and products now accounting for nearly half of farm income in our state, the ability to extend the growing season with hoophouses and polyhouses is essential.”

The New Jersey legislature passed the “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act” in 1987 to protect freshwater wetlands from unnecessary disturbance. At the time, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection maps denoted some actively farmed areas as wetlands, as they exhibited characteristics thereof in infrared aerial photographs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers these farmed wetlands to be “prior converted cropland,” as they essentially have been deprived of their wetland functions and values by ongoing manipulation and cropping. Such lands are thus exempt from certain regulations under Section 404 of the federal “Clean Water Act.”

Prior to the enactment of this law, the DEP, alleging that temporary farm structures do not fall under the realm of “normal farming activity,” could have taken action against those who use hoophouses and polyhouses on farmed wetlands, pursuant to the “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.”

The law, which applies to all pending and completed enforcement actions, halts such action.