The latest point of conflict in the 12th-district Senate race between incumbent Democrat Ellen Karcher and Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck involves Christmas trees.

Karcher says she grows them on her Marlboro farm, and sells a a half-dozen a year, plus some cordwood — enough to qualify for a coveted farmland assessment on the 8.7-acre property.

Beck wants to know if Karcher in fact qualifies for the assessment, given the meager sales, and why she hasn’t previously disclosed any income from her farm.

From today’s Asbury Park Press:

Beck cited farmland assessment applications filed with Marlboro Township from 2000 to 2007, which said the farm sold an average of six Christmas trees and anywhere from two to six cords of firewood annually.

“My contention is it’s an obvious abuse. It’s not a working farm,” Beck said. “In seven years, it’s only generated six trees (sold) a year and provides a $14,000 tax abatement.”

Beck also questioned why the income from the sale of the trees didn’t appear on Karcher’s financial disclosure forms.

Karcher estimated the family earns between $500 and $1,000 a year in farm income, and amended her 2004 and 2005 forms in May 2006, because she wasn’t sure if the amount was too small to be claimed.

“The fact is every year the tax assessor walks the property and goes through all the plantings with my husband,” Karcher said. “I don’t know what they’re saying if they think that paying $24,998 in property taxes isn’t enough.”

If this sounds vaguely familiar, today’s Star-Ledger reminds us that the same kind of flap arose over Christie Whitman’s farmland assessment during her successful 1993 gubernatorial run.

“I can tell you without question that I am a much more hands-on farmer than Governor Christie Whitman ever was,” Karcher said. Whitman could not be reached yesterday.

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