In a first-of-its-kind report, New Jersey ranks No. 1 in the country for efforts aimed at stemming the loss of farmland.

In the same report, it's found New Jersey has lost the greatest percentage of this land to residential and other development over a 15-year period, and it's considered to be among the states with the most threatened agricultural land going forward.

According to American Farmland Trust, the only nationwide nonprofit devoted to protecting farmland resources, the Garden State is doing the best job at protecting active farmland that has the potential to be claimed for other uses.

Since its inception more than three decades ago, New Jersey's Farmland Preservation Program has led to the permanent protection of over 2,600 farms, accounting for roughly one-third of all farmland in the state.

"That is definitely the highest percentage in the country," said Susan Payne, executive director of the State Agriculture Development Committee, which administers the FPP.

"And we've also invested more money from the public in farmland protection than any other state in the country, by far," Payne added.

New Jersey received high marks for a number of policy tools, including a farm-link program that helps farms looking to find new properties for their practice, and the requirement that counties and municipalities adopt comprehensive farmland preservation plans in order to receive state funding.

Payne said the state has "accomplished a lot" of farmland preservation in certain parts of the state, while some counties have at least 100,000 acres of farmland that's not protected.

In the report, New Jersey ranks No. 3 among states with the most threatened agricultural land, behind Texas and North Carolina.

At 8.7%, New Jersey lost the greatest share of farmland to urban and low-density uses from 2001 to 2016. In terms of gross acreage losses, New Jersey performed better than most states. During that time, New Jersey also recorded the highest percentage (9.1%) of lost land considered "nationally significant" because of its productivity, resiliency and versatility.

"We can, and must, strive to preserve the state's farmland base, help farmers continue to be good stewards of the land, and create an environment where farm businesses can thrive now and in the future," said New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher, chair of the SADC. "AFT's report shows we're on the right track, but we must continue to forge ahead to remain a model of the best farmland protection practices for many years to come."

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