(Dec. 6) HAMMONTON, N.J. — Blueberry grower-shipper Atlantic Blueberry Co. hasn’t sold the farm, but the $2.46 million it will receive under a preservation initiative will forever keep about half its acreage in agriculture, pay for the purchase of capital and fund an ownership buyout.

The company has sold development rights on 1,448 acres of its 3,000-acre farm, a move that won’t change the nature of Atlantic’s partnership with Naples, Fla.-based Global Berry Farms LLC.

Under the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program, created in 1983, the state and Atlantic County have agreed to purchase development rights on 1,448 acres of Atlantic’s 3,000-acre farm. The company maintains ownership and will continue to farm, said Art Galletta, president.

A portion of the $2.46 million was used to buy out one of the company’s owners, Al Galletta, who retired in April.

Of Atlantic Blueberry’s 3,000-acre property, blueberries are grown on two plots that total 1,300 acres. Galletta said a 700-acre blueberry tract has been preserved under the program. Annual blueberry volumes at Atlantic average about 9 million pounds, or 1 million flats, Galletta said.

The company’s property also is preserved through the State Agriculture Development Committee’s Pinelands County Easement Purchase Program, which limits development but is not a permanent land protection initiative, said Hope Gruzlovic, spokeswoman for the committee.

The preservation program doesn’t prevent Atlantic Blueberry from selling its land, however. If sold in the future, the 1,448 acres must be used for agriculture, and Gruzlovic said Atlantic’s property would likely garner less than market value because of the deed restriction.

The development committee provided 75% of the funding to purchase the land rights, while the county supplied the remainder.

The Garden State Preservation Trust Act, passed in June 1999, provides about $80 million per year to be used for farmland preservation. Gruzlovic said $130 million was earmarked for the program in July and is awaiting government approval.