TOPOFF 3 – The Department will participate in the TOPOFF 3 exercise, scheduled for April 4-8, to test New Jersey in its response to a simulated biological attack on the state. In addition to New Jersey, Connecticut, Canada and the United Kingdom will also be participating. The Division of Animal Health also is lending its expertise and advice on the long-term consequences (30, 90, 180 days) that the scenario would have on the NJDA and its constituents in the state. These will be played out in the Large Scale Game that will be held in Washington, D.C. in May.
Smart Growth Planners Tool Kit – On March 9, the Department unveiled a new webpage on the Department of Agriculture’s website, www.state.nj.us/agriculture, that provides a “tool kit” of resources to help municipal governments, businesses, non-profit groups, and local citizens plan to retain agriculture in their communities along with the many benefits it provides. The Agricultural Smart Growth Tool Kit, located at www.state.nj.us/agriculture/divisions/md/news/municipal.html was developed to assist in achieving the goals and objectives outlined in the Agricultural Smart Growth Plan released by the Department in 2003. The plan provides realistic and practical approaches to ensuring that as New Jersey continues to grow, its agricultural industry remains strong. The tool kit provides hands-on tools for those planning to retain agriculture in their communities.
Gasko Ruling - The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of a greenhouse operator in Middlesex County who faced a tax assessment change because he allowed the public into the greenhouse to shop for plants. A new tax assessor came along in 1998 and “determined that the greenhouses contained disqualifying ‘sales space’.” The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision favoring the Farmland Assessment Act, ruled that the structures met the test for being “single use, demountable” and therefore are tax exempt. The Department, Farm Bureau, and the NJ Nursery and Landscape Association all were formally involved and supported the grower’s position. At issue was whether the mere entry of the retail public into growing areas within greenhouses created a dual use of sales space and therefore voided the “single purpose” criterion for the tax exemption. In the opinion for the court, Justice Jaynee La Vecchia’s concluded: “(we) reject the contention that somehow the intensity of sales-related activity within greenhouses #3-6 has altered the essential nature of those structures. No money is exchanged in these greenhouses, no pricing information is posted, and no packaging of purchased items is performed for the customers.”
Produce Bonding – Legislation to amend the surety requirements for vendors buying produce on credit from New Jersey producers passed both houses and is now on the Governor’s desk. The bills would require surety to be posted to cover 100-percent of purchases up to a maximum of $150,000 annually. The measures also authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a surety fund into which credit purchasers would pay to cover any defaults on payments to producers. Both provisions would be in effect for at least the first several years of the fund until sufficient monies were built up to cover any large defaults. No state monies will go into the fund, it will all be broker-funded.
Asian Longhorned Beetle – As of March 17, 2,477 trees had been removed from the Middlesex/Union Asian longhorned beetle site. Of those, 486 were infested host trees and 1,991 were high-risk exposed host trees. News 12 New Jersey, the cable all-news channel, ran a story about the ALB tree removal process on March 11.
Soup Kitchen Visit – Secretary Kuperus urged New Jersey citizens and communities to continue efforts to help the hungry in the state as he visited a soup kitchen March 17 at Covenant Presbyterian Orthodox Church in Vineland to view the operation and offer his support for the efforts of the volunteers who give their time every week to feed hot meals to between 50 and 90 people. The soup kitchen at Covenant Presbyterian Church operates on Thursdays and is one of four daily soup kitchens organized by Spirit and Truth Ministries to feed the hungry of Vineland. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture contracts with six emergency food organizations throughout the state to distribute federally donated food to needy individuals and families through a network of 650 local soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) in 2003 served 1,421,462 recipients and provided 3,895,679 meals at soup kitchens and shelters.
Jersey Fresh Communications – The Division of Marketing and Development’s Bill Walker will resume the weekly Jersey Fresh Availability and Forecast Report in mid-April. The report is sent to produce industry executives, the hospitality and restaurant industries, Rutgers Cooperative Extension and media representatives.
Avian Influenza – On March 15th, poultry dealers, distributors and producers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York met at the Livestock Cooperative Auction in Hackettstown, New Jersey. The meeting was called to address the questions and concerns that have arisen regarding the State of New Jersey’s avian influenza testing and importation requirements. The group expressed their concerns regarding the viability of the auction. Auction poultry sales have decreased since the implementation of the requirement that all birds test negative for avian influenza prior to entering the auction. Other concerns focused on the differing requirements for testing between the three states, the upcoming adoption of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Uniform Standards for avian influenza, the time-delay in receiving results from birds that were tested and the reasoning behind continued testing of backyard flocks despite the fact that the State has never had a positive backyard flock. The meeting clarified areas that need improvement within the State’s avian influenza program. The Department is currently amending our rules in conjunction with surrounding States to conform to the USDA’s Uniform Standards for avian influenza. A follow-up meeting will be held at the Livestock Cooperative Auction in Hackettstown on March 29th to review a draft of the amended avian influenza regulations.
Gypsy Moth - A total of 522 acres of forested residential properties in three southern counties are proposed for treatment of gypsy moths to protect trees from defoliation by the gypsy moth caterpillars. In previous years, the Department used federal cost share dollars to reimburse participating municipalities for half of the aerial application costs. Due to the decline in gypsy moth infestation in the northeastern region over the last few years, the USDA Forest service has decided to discontinue financial support for suppression related activities. A survey mailed to approximately 120 municipalities that participated in the Department’s Gypsy Moth Suppression Program over the last three years showed that 74 percent of the municipalities that responded would continue to participate in the program, 21 percent declined further participation and 5 percent were undecided.
Semi-Permanent Pesticide Container Recycling Program - A free plastic pesticide container collection program at the Cumberland County Solid Waste Complex in Deerfield Township will run from May through October and will save participants in excess of $55/ton in landfill tipping fees. Non-refillable, high-density polyethylene # 2 (HDPE #2) containers used by agricultural, professional and commercial pesticide applicators will be accepted at the collection site. Containers must be no larger than 55 gallons and properly rinsed. If growers have plastic pails, bulb crates, or other plastics that are HDPE #2, may contact the NJDA to determine if they are suitable for the recycling program. Collections will be held from 9:00 am to 12 Noon on May 20, June 3, June 17, July 1, July 15, August 5, August 19, September 2, September 23, October 7 and October 21.
South Jersey Produce Tour – Secretary Kuperus toured several South Jersey farms on Wednesday and Thursday, March 16 and 17, to listen to concerns of farmers and to underscore the programs and services the Department has available to help producers, such as Jersey Fresh and other grant programs. Issues raised by the farmers included the minimum wage, clarifications on the new license and bonding law, water allocation, and wildlife damage. The tour helped foster relations between the Department and the farming community in South Jersey. On-farm visits will continue throughout the year.