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Secretary's Report to the State Board of Agriculture
January 24, 2007School Nutrition Policy Implementation Ahead of Schedule – New Jersey schools must implement the Department of Agriculture’s Model School Nutrition Policy by September of 2007. However, by the end of 2006, 326 of the 573 school districts participating in the School Nutrition Programs (National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, After-school Snack Program, and Special Milk Program) had implemented the policy. That represents 57 percent of the school districts that have put the policy in place nine months ahead of the deadline. The Division of Food and Nutrition continues to provide assistance to districts as they implement the policy, which limits fat and sugar content in foods offered to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in a la carte lines, snack bars and vending machines, school stores and as part of on-campus fundraisers.
Produce Safety Task Force -- The Produce Safety Task Force met for the first time on Tuesday, January 23. The group was established to help ensure the safety of New Jersey produce and to help growers adapt to new safety standards coming from either the federal government or the industry itself. Discussed at the first meeting was the possible expansion of voluntary third-party NJDA audits, the problem of certain buyers insisting on more-expensive private audits as a condition of purchase, possible federal funding or foundation grants for food-safety efforts and the establishment of a web portal where Task Force members could share information instantly.
Spinach Roundtable -- The Department participated in the January 24 “Spinach Roundtable” being conducted by Rutgers University’s Food Policy Institute. The roundtable featured spinach growers, retailers and processors, as well as government and university representatives involved in food safety. The spinach crisis of September 2006, when the FDA issued a broad-based advisory against eating any fresh spinach due to E. coli outbreaks, was reviewed. The FDA later narrowed that advisory to spinach grown in three counties in California. However, the intervening uncertainty created problems for New Jersey growers in moving their spinach to market. The roundtable also assessed the Department’s public relations and advertising efforts to inform consumers of the safety of New Jersey-grown spinach.
Farmland Preservation Legislative Update -- State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) Executive Director Susan Craft testified Monday before the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to provide a status update on farmland preservation and Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) funding. More than 150,000 acres have been preserved since the inception of the Farmland Preservation Program, with another 50,000 acres expected to be preserved by the close of the GSPT. A total of $706 million in GSPT funding has been appropriated for farmland preservation purposes since the GSPT was established in 1999. The $75 million in remaining GSPT farmland funding is expected to be exhausted after FY2008 appropriations. The administration is working to identify new funding for farmland, open space and historic preservation.
Gypsy Moth 2007 Suppression Program Proposal – In January, the Department of Agriculture held an information session and two regional meetings with municipal officials on the proposed 2007 Gypsy Moth Aerial Spray Program. The proposed 2007 spray program includes approximately 60,000 acres of residential properties and 9,500 acres of state and federal-owned woodlands in an effort to reduce defoliation and subsequent tree loss caused by the gypsy moth caterpillar. The areas proposed for spraying involve 26 municipalities and three agencies located in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, Sussex and Warren Counties. Recently completed egg mass surveys, conducted by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, show that gypsy moth populations have increased to extremely high levels in the above-mentioned counties. The Department is seeking a waiver from the Department of Environmental Protection to include the use of Dimilin as part of its comprehensive suppression program.
Asian Longhorned Beetle – Regular tree removal operations within the Middlesex and Union Counties quarantine area were completed this month. Negotiations about the removal of the last seven trees scheduled for removal in Linden are continuing. To date, 23,581 trees have been removed in the quarantine area since November of 2004. Chips from tree and stump removals will be sent to Covanta Resource Recovery Center to be recycled into electricity. Tree climbers will soon start two rounds of surveys in the Jersey City monitoring zone, which was removed from quarantine in late 2005. If both surveys are negative, the Asian longhorned beetle will be considered eradicated in the Jersey City/Hoboken area.
Dairy Order – Two emergency rules were enacted on January 19, implementing portions of a September 28, 2006 order by the Director of the Division of Marketing and Development to help in the short term to offset the extremely high costs currently plaguing dairy producers. One rule directs all licensed processors and dealers to pay New Jersey producers a fuel adjustment add-on for all milk purchased from a New Jersey producer. The fuel adjuster is tied to the cost of diesel fuel. The second rule is intended to increase the financial reporting required to be provided by licensed processors, dealers, subdealers and stores. The amended reporting will allow the Department to better understand and monitor any increases or decreases in processing and distribution costs, as well as the price of raw milk, wholesale milk prices and retail milk prices. This increased reporting can be used to stabilize New Jersey’s milk industry, provide better protection to New Jersey’s producers and consumers and will better enable the Department to effectively enforce current laws and regulations. A third provision of the September 28 order, requiring a premium for rBST-free milk, was disallowed in an Appellate Division action brought by out-of-state processors. It will be the subject of further hearings in upcoming months, with the goal of attaining enough local financial information to have the premium pass judicial muster.
Farm Biosecurity/Security – The Department of Agriculture sent a letter for distribution to livestock producers in January urging them to review their farm best management practices to ensure the security and safety of their operations, employees and customers. An incident in December at a Somerset County farm in which many quail died after they were released from their pens showed how vulnerable farms can be. Animal rights extremists claimed responsibility for the incident. The best management practices, distributed to all livestock producers in the state and can be found on the Department’s website at www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/ah/news/biosecurity.html, can help minimize all types of threats to animals and public health and safety.
Agricultural Education Safety – Following the death of a 16-year in a tractor accident in Warren County in December, a survey was distributed on safety lessons in agricultural education classrooms throughout the state. Responses thus far show that safety lessons are a regular part of instruction. All programs teach general lab and occupational safety on a regular basis. Tractor safety is taught, with even more instruction for schools with access to tractors. Most schools teach equipment and power equipment safety and require passing grades prior to students using equipment. The state FFA Association offers a Safe Tractor Driving Event, which has had 14 schools regularly participate in the last four years. Teachers must sign a release that verifies the students have been properly trained through classroom instruction before they can compete in the event.
Streamlining Farmland Preservation Process -- The State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) is accepting public comment through February 2nd on its major rule proposal to streamline farmland preservation processes. The proposal includes establishment of a new county planning incentive grant program that would enable counties to accept and process farmland preservation applications year-round, rather than annually, reduce the timeframe from application to preservation, and reward counties that close on transactions in a timely manner with the potential for additional funding. To ensure counties understand the proposal, SADC Executive Director Craft has visited nine counties to discuss the changes and extended offers to visit the remaining counties to do the same.
New Jersey 2007 Outstanding Young Farmer National Finalist – Peter Melick, New Jersey’s 2007 Outstanding Young Farmer has been selected as one of the 10 National Outstanding Young Farmer finalists. Peter and his wife will travel to Phoenix, Arizona on February 7 for the 51st National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Congress to compete for one of the four National Awards. The other finalists are from California, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.