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Secretary's Report to the State Board of Agriculture
July 22, 2009Gypsy Moth Defoliation – An aerial defoliation survey has found that the amount of tree damaged caused by gypsy moth caterpillars this spring decreased for the first time since 2003. The survey showed that 91,890 acres of trees experienced some level of leaf loss in the state this year, compared with 339,240 acres last year. Most of this year’s damage was moderate to heavy, or between 25 and 75 percent of a tree’s leaves were eaten by the bugs. Unlike past years, there was less severe damage due to effective treatments and more activity by the beneficial fungus Entomaphaga maimaiga. Wet weather in May caused the fungus to thrive, killing the caterpillars before they became large. In addition, there were increased established parasite levels, which are helping the gypsy moth population to collapse. A total of 184 municipalities in 19 counties experienced defoliation this year. Most counties had significant decreases in the amount of acres of tree damage. However, the survey showed a spread of the gypsy moth in certain areas of the state, due to natural and wind-borne movement, including Cumberland, Morris, Mercer, Bergen, Middlesex, Essex and Salem counties. The Department’s annual aerial spray program included 15 counties, 55 municipalities and 11 agencies with spraying on 35,816 acres. This year, the United States Forest Service provided $1,480,472 in cost share reimbursement funding to participating towns.
Weather-Related Issues – State Climatologist David Robinson has ranked June 2009 as the 24th coolest Junes in 115 years and June as one of the top ten rainiest Junes on record. This weather has led to the season being slightly behind normal but with the weather warming up, the crops could catch up to a normal production schedule as the season progresses. The cool and wet weather has impacted some crops. Hay -- Hay producers were impacted and experienced crop losses due to the timing of their harvest and the need for dry weather to cure the hay. Wheat -- All along the east coast, wheat producers are reporting their crops have been impacted by vomitoxin, a toxin produced by a fungus that has resulted in the past week weeks in farmers’ wheat being rejected or significantly reduced in value. The Department is offering a test for vomitoxin to assist farmers in qualifying for claims from their crop insurance. Tomatoes -- In addition, there have been reports of late blight in tomatoes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Community Farmers Markets/Food Stamps -- Families who receive foods stamps can now use them to buy fresh produce at many farmers markets throughout the state under a new program kicked off on July 9 at the Capital City Farmers Market in Trenton by Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez and Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher. The program aims to make healthier food choices more available to lower-income residents. The pilot program involves more than 15 farmers who sell at over 80 farmers markets around New Jersey. Families can now scan their EBT cards at machines at the participating farmers’ markets. Many tailgates farmers’ markets were not able to accept the card because they didn’t have access to the electricity or telephone line needed to process transactions online. The pilot provided farmers with the wireless equipment they needed to process these transactions.
Specialty Crop Grants -- A total of $219,487 of USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants funds have been approved for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to: fund improvements to the Tri-County Auction Market Association facility; research cranberry plant disease; improve the marketing of New Jersey wines; support the New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program; develop a comprehensive outreach and education program to inform public officials, and the general public, about New Jersey’s beekeeping industry; to improve and expand the New Jersey blueberry industry’s integrated pest management practices; promote and advertise the states peach industry; provide consumer advertising for the state’s horticultural industry; and, to increase public awareness of Christmas Tree growers while also studying the effects of different ground covers and their effect upon Christmas tree production.
Marketing Grant -- New Jersey received an $89,000 matching grant for an agricultural market research and demonstration project from USDA. The grant will go to Rutgers University, in cooperation with the University of Delaware, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Penn State University, the New Jersey Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Association, and the New Jersey Farm Bureau, to document the characteristics of direct-marketing patrons in the Mid-Atlantic region, describe product attributes and agritourism activities preferred by consumers, develop forecasting models of direct marketing activity, and estimate the economic impact of direct marketing and agritourism in the region.
Chinatown Trade Mission – Secretary Fisher visited New York’s Chinatown community on July 15 to discuss ways in which large food distributors there could purchase more fresh produce and seafood from New Jersey farmers and fishermen. This would be mutually beneficial in that it would increase purchases from New Jersey’s agricultural operators and reduce the costs to the food distribution businesses, who supply the bulk of food to New York’s Chinese restaurants. The visit also helped the Department to better understand the buying preferences of Chinese residents, which can be applied in-state as well. The tour included visits to Chinese food distribution warehouses, a Chinese supermarket (where the bulk of items are fresh instead of processed, and seafood is purchased alive) and a conglomerate of more than 20 Chinese-language newspapers. Follow up will include facilitating a connection between the New York Chinese community and agritourism venues in New Jersey. The Chinatown Chamber of Commerce expressed great interest in visiting the state in the fall to experience agritourism venues, with an eye toward increasing their community’s visits to such destinations.
Community Supported Agriculture – Secretary Fisher visited the Muth Family Farm in Williamstown, Gloucester County, on July 20 to observe a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in action. For the first time in the Census of Agriculture, in 2007, CSAs were counted. The Census found that 81 New Jersey farms offered this type of opportunity. The Muths are in their eighth season and have more than 425 members who share in their bounty. The Muths grow eight acres of organic produce, some are unusual varieties.
Seafood Cook-off – New Jersey’s representative in the Great American Seafood Cook-off, Peter Fischbach of Toms River, came in second in the competition on July 18 in New Orleans. He lost by a slim margin to highly esteemed New Orleans chef, Tory McPhail. Fischbach and his assistant, Erik Weatherspool, competed against 14 other chefs from coastal states renowned for their fine seafood. Their dish was Barnegat Light scallops and grits.
Summer Food Service Program -- There are 95 Summer Food Service Program sponsors this summer, nine of them new this year. The program’s goal is to ensure that students who receive free or reduced priced lunch during the school year have access to nutritious meals during the summer. In 2008, only 12 percent of the 663,000 children participating in the National School Lunch Program had access to nutritious meals in the summer.
Summer Agritourism – Secretary Fisher promoted summer tourism opportunities July 1 with a visit to a pick your own blueberry farm in Belleplain, Cape May County. Besides pick your own fruits, vegetables and flowers, there are winery tours, wine, food and seafood festivals, educational tours and community farmers markets.