Burzichelli & Riley Bill to Update Farming Laws Gains Panel Approval

Legislation Assembly Democrats John J. Burzichelli and Celeste M. Riley sponsored to facilitate operations for the agriculture industry in New Jersey was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-3124) would amend current law to exempt certain temporary farm structures from permit and transition area requirements under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act of 1987.

Under the bill, the installation of temporary farm structures, including hoophouses and polyhouses, would be categorized as “normal farming activity” and thus exempt from the state law, as are plowing, seeding and cultivating land.

“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.”

“Lifting permit restrictions and allowing farmers to maximize their growing potential can only benefit our state,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Temporary farm structures make farm processes more efficient and enable farmers in New Jersey to compete with farmers in states with warmer climates and longer growing seasons.”

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.

The DEP, however, alleging that temporary farm structures do not fall under the realm of “normal farming activity,” currently may take action against those who use hoophouses and polyhouses on farmed wetlands pursuant to the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act. The provisions of this bill, which would apply to all pending and completed enforcement actions, would halt such action.

The bill was released by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.