Impermanence Syndrome of Urban Fringe Farming

Strong legislation supporting farming is only part of the solution to stemming the loss of agriculture from our state. Surrounding communities must support local farms and farm families both economically and socially.
What happens when these supports for farming weaken?

Farmland-Preserve-SignThree acts of legislation have been key in the struggle to keep farms and farmers in our state.

Together they aim to reduce loss of farmland conversion to development through beneficial taxation and deed restriction, as well as protection of farming activity when farmer, neighbor, and municipality conflicts arise. If these laws, particularly the Farmland Assessment Act, had not been put into effect when they were, it is not an exaggeration to say that there would be almost no commercial farms left in New Jersey today. For farming to remain viable in our state, we need to ensure this legal foundation is not eroded over time.

Impermanence Syndrome – Have you got it?

Coined in 1978 by D. Berry, the term describes the accelerated agricultural decline near urban areas due to farmers’ disinvestment in their farm operations in anticipation of development. Disinvestment begins long before farmers actually exit farming – by 10, 20, or even 30 years. This disinvestment in the face of rising development involves non-renewal of farm infrastructure (buildings and long-lived equipment) and lack of investment in production efficiency, labor use, marketing, and value-added activities. Impermanence Syndrome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the decline in technologic and capital investments leads to reduced competitiveness and profitability.

Three factors stand out as major contributors of Impermanence Syndrome in New Jersey farmers:

  • Most important, our relentlessly rising land values makes existing farmers realize they can’t afford NOT to sell their land to developers. As a side issue, this also makes entry into farming impossible for would-be new farmers because affordable land can’t be found. New Jersey farmland continues to rise in value, ironically, in part as a result of preservation – people want to live near open space.
  • Secondly, farming at the rural-urban interface puts significant pressure on New Jersey farmers with inherent inefficiency due to farm size-related costs, regulatory challenges, and neighbor conflicts.
  • And finally, the loss of farming as a culture contributes to Impermanence Syndrome. Farmers are a cultural community with shared values and support systems. As farmers become a community minority, beset with policies threatening their lifestyle, their ability to earn a viable livelihood, and their equity stake relationship to their land, they develop a sense of powerlessness.

Declining satisfaction leads to disinvestment in the farming operation and eventual farm failure. Recognizing these factors and addressing their effects are of strategic importance.

Actions to Take if You’re a Farmer


  • Know the law and how it can help you. Make sure you fall under the protection of the Right to Farm Act by qualifying as a commercial farm, using accepted agricultural practices, and complying with state and federal laws. Understand that the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) was created to help you. Call on them if conflicts arise or you have questions about specific practices being protected.
  • Make sure you communicate with your neighbors about what’s going-on on your farm.
  • Be aware of Impermanence Syndrome and it’s causes. Stay involved in local and statepolitics to help solve problems of farmland accessibility, to make sure agricultural regulations are sensible, and zoning changes do not have a negative impact onsustainability. Communicate and socialize with other farmers, new and established, in your area.
  • Adapt to changes in New Jersey’s farming environment as it relates to sustainability and profitability. The most important factors for long-term urban fringe farm viability include high gross sales and growing higher value crops. Get involved in direct sales, farm marketing, community-supported agriculture, value-added products, and high value crops.

Actions to Take as a Local-Farm Supporter

  • Visit your local farmer/farm market weekly. Not only will you get exceptionally fresh food, but also you will strengthen the local economy, ensure farm sustainability, improve your family’s health, and protect the environment.
  • Stay involved in local and state politics to help ensure government regulations don’t increase costs, paperwork, and erect new barriers that would further push local farms toward insolvency.

Additional Reading
Farmland Retention Techniques Currently in Use
An Introduction to New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act – NJAES
Background Facts about New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act — New Jersey Farm Bureau
Census of Agriculture 2007 — USDA
Evaluating Changes in the Eligibility Provisions for Farmland Assessment in New Jersey — Food Policy Institute
Farmland Assessment Program – New Jersey Forest Service
2010 FEAC Values for Farmland Assessment – NJ Division of Taxation
Agricultural Alternatives for Various Production Practices: Production and Budget Analysis — Penn State
2009 Farmland Data Report – NJ Division of Taxation
Right to Farm — Marci Green