RARITAN TWP, NJ - Raritan Township intends to preserve 600 acres of farmland over the next 10 years, according to a Farmland Preservation Plan adopted by the township committee April 6.
The township anticipates preserving an additional 100 acres within one year and 300 acres within five years, according to the plan.
The plan singles out several farms in the northern part of the township that should be included in future farmland preservation efforts, including the Bowlby and Kuhl properties, which total approximately 700 acres.
Raritan Township has 6,450 acres that are farmland accessed, accounting for 26.8% of the township’s total acreage, according to the report. Of that, 1,584.30 acres have been preserved.
The 96-page document outlines in detail the number of farms, the role of farming in the township, plans to preserve farmland, farming trends and agricultural threats.
Nurseries account for the largest agricultural use in the township, followed by crops such as hay and then horse farms. But that could change with high value crops such as vegetables that command up to $5,000 per acre and require less land drive profits, according to the plan.
Agri-tourism such as hay rides, farm tours, pick-your-own operations and farm stands can also add to farm profits.
Currently, the average Raritan Township farm is 24.38 acres, run by part-time, aging farmers.
Raritan Township, until the 1960s, was a farming community. During the 1980s and 1990s, the township saw a huge housing boom, and during the 1990s, the township shifted its position from promoting development to preserving farmland and open space.
More recently, the township has seen a drastic reduction in the number of new residential units and office and commercial space. Residential building permits peaked at 247 units in 2003, falling to a low of 12 units in 2012.
In 2015, there was a slight increase in residential units, as 128 units were added, as compared to only 41 units the prior two years. Approvals for office space and retail space were strong until 2009 when there was a drastic decline in square footage approved, according to the report.
Although a recent downturn in the economy has reduced development pressure, demand for vacant land is expected to increase over the next 10 to 15 years, driven by affordable housing. Any farmland in the township’s sewer service will become more valuable as a result, which could hamper preservation efforts, according to the plan.
The township funds preservation through a variety sources, including the municipal open space tax, state and federal funding programs including the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) and Green Acres, Hunterdon County and non-profit organizations.