by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
There’s a good reason the horse is New Jersey’s state animal. The Garden State’s rich agricultural heritage was built with horses and plows, long before the advent of tractors. Although today horses are rarely used for crop farming, they’re still an integral part of our state’s agricultural economy.
New Jersey’s horse farms and stables can be found in every county, about 7,200 in all. Hunterdon and Monmouth counties have the most, 1,110 and 960 respectively, and Mercer County has the fewest at 110. Horses are important to sports, recreation, youth development, therapy for the handicapped, and rehabilitation of troubled youth and adults. And growing hay and feed for horses keeps many farms productive.
Horse-related industries contribute to the economic well-being of our state, as detailed in a study by the Rutgers’ Equine Science Center, New Jersey Equine Industry, 2007: Its Impact on the Economy, Agriculture and Open Space. The study was the result of extensive surveying and economic analysis of the equine industry.
According to the report, 142,000 acres of land directly support horses and equine activities. That’s almost one-fifth of the state’s estimated 790,000 farm acres, or an area roughly the size of Cape May, Mercer, Camden and Bergen counties combined.
Of the total acreage, about 46,000 acres are used to support horse racing or racing-related activities. The remaining 68 percent of the land supports the non-racing segments of the equine industry, such as recreational and pleasure horses.
The Rutgers study set the value of the horse industry at more than $3.5 billion, which includes the value of the horses, and the land, buildings and equipment used in their care.
The equine industry generates an estimated $1.1 billion annually, with more than half coming from horse and horse farm owners. This includes almost $477 million in direct spending on feed, forage, services, supplies, fees, trucks, trailers, equipment and maintenance, as well as a $170 million “ripple effect” produced by those expenditures.
The study also found nearly 13,000 jobs directly related to horse farming or operations, horse racing and other equine activities.
The farmland used for horses also benefits taxpayers, generating estimated tax revenues of $160 million annually in federal, state and local taxes.
A remarkable number of the 7,200 horse farms have roots in other forms of agriculture. For example, 24 percent of horse operations in 2007 were former cattle, dairy or poultry farms; 11 percent once grew field crops. This suggests that horse farms, or horse-related activities on more diverse farms, are part of the mix of products and services New Jersey farmers are using to remain economically viable.
New Jersey is also home to the United States Equestrian Team, attracting top riders from all over the country to train and compete.
New Jersey’s horse industry faces challenges in today’s economic environment. Sprawl has claimed thousands of acres of farms, and farming structures. Competition from gambling activities like casinos has reduced the profitability of horse racing.
Continuing to save farmland is key. Working, profitable farms – including horse farms and stables – are a bulwark against sprawl.
And I hope you will consult NJCF’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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