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September 29, 2010

--The four work sessions scheduled by the Department on the low milk prices received by New Jersey dairy farmers over the past two years concluded on September. Again, dairy farmers urged the Department to finalize a program designed to address the pricing issue, and representatives from other segments of the milk marketing chain expressed concern that they, too, must not be unduly burdened by any moves the Department may make to bring more of the “dairy dollar” to the farmer. Retailer input was again noticeably absent from the work session. The Department is now conferring with the Division of Law on the options that can be pursued to address the issue, which will likely require at least one day of a formal hearing in order to put the farmers’ cost-of-production information onto the record that would be needed to implement any program, along with any other cost information from other segments of the milk marketing chain needed to effectuate such a plan.

Disaster Declaration RequestUnited States Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack has designated six New Jersey counties as natural disaster areas, following high winds, frost, freeze, hail and flooding during May that led to crop losses.  Governor Chris Christie began the process of bringing relief to impacted farmers in mid-August when reports began coming in that the extreme weather had caused crop and property loss on farms in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean Counties. Governor Christie made a subsequent disaster request to add the counties of Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Salem, Somerset, Sussex and Warren due to continued adverse weather conditions, such as excessively hot and dry conditions this summer.  The disaster designation covers losses from May 7 and continuing, making farm operators in both primary and contiguous counties eligible to be considered for assistance from Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met.  This assistance includes FSA emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE).

Legislators’ Agriculture Tour – Senator John Girgenti and Assemblywomen Elease Evans, Alison McHose and Connie Wagner, as well as Secretary Fisher, State Board of Agriculture President Scott Ellis and New Jersey Farm Bureau President Rich Nieuwenhuis, attended the annual Legislators’ Agriculture tour on September 22, organized by the New Jersey Agricultural Society, the NJDA and City Green, a non-profit dedicated to teaching students about the importance of fresh produce and hot to include it in their diets.  The tour visited Paterson School #2 where 6th through 8th grade students rehabilitated space at the senior citizen housing complex across the street from the school and installed a raised-bed vegetable garden.  Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones and School Superintended Dr. Donnie Evans joined the tour at School #3, where science students had taken a city-owned lot filled with debris and turned it into a learning garden.  They grew several beds of vegetables and each class had a salad party.  The final stop was City Green’s Learning Garden and Urban Farm at Eastside Park.  A large amount of the produce grown at the farm, tended by high school interns, was donated to feed the hungry in the area.  The tour served to educate officials about the need for making fresh fruits and vegetables available to city residents, teaching them about good nutrition, and the important role New Jersey agriculture plays in citizens’ efforts to find locally grown food.

Warren County Farmland Preservation Milestone – Secretary Fisher attended Warren County’s ceremony on September 27 marking the milestone of the county’s preservation of 20,000 acres of farmland.  The event was held on the Demeter Farm in White Township, the 56-acre tract that helped the county reach its goal.  Warren County preserved its first farm in 1989 and is the 4th county in the state to permanently preserve 20,000 acres of farmland.  The other counties are Burlington, Hunterdon and Salem counties.

Specialty Crops Block Grant – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the Christie Administration an $840,373 United States Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant for a variety of uses including education, marketing and promotion of New Jersey agricultural products.  The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will use the grant for 10 projects, including the Jersey Fresh marketing program.  Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture, nursery crops and floriculture. Most of New Jersey agriculture falls into the specialty crop category.

Team Nutrition Training Grant – The USDA awarded the Christie Administration a $340,250 Team Nutrition Training Grant for the training of foodservice professionals, enhancement of fruit and vegetable consumption through school gardens and Farm to School programs, and promotion of locally grown produce in school meals.  The Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, will work with Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Department of Family and Community Sciences on the two year grant project.  The program will include training for foodservice managers and staff to implement the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into both school meals and a la carte offerings.  They will be trained on how to make their meals more appealing and “kid-friendly,” and how to start school gardens and initiate more Farm to School programs.  Nine pilot schools will be chosen to receive $7,500 mini-grants to promote fruit and vegetable consumption through fun, interactive lessons and activities, which will link classroom education to the foods served in the cafeteria, including food tastings, promotion of locally grown produce and strategies to engage families and the community.  A school garden will be planted in each of the nine schools

Gypsy Moth – Egg mass surveying has begun in order to determine the need for treatment for gypsy moth next spring.  The Department contacted 107 municipalities throughout the state notifying them of gypsy moth defoliation on their residential forested properties. A total of 87 towns have requested egg mass surveys for the 2011 program.  The surveys will continue through the end of the year with recommendations for spraying to be made in January.

West Nile Virus – A second horse has tested positive for West Nile Virus in New Jersey.  A 22 year old gelding from Gloucester County was euthanized on September 20.  The animal had not been vaccinated against WNV. 

Hunger Funding – First quarter State Food Purchase Program funding was distributed to the six state-contracted food banks in the amount of $1,363,600 on August 11.  The total funding allocated in the Fiscal 2011 State Budget for the program is $6,818,000.

National Envirothon – New Jersey’s winning Envirothon team from the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science from Ocean County placed 16th out of 52 teams at the 2010 Canon Envirothon in California.  During the six-day competition, teams are challenged on their knowledge of a variety of environmental issues including soils and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife and a specially selected current environmental issue.

Secretary Fisher to Hold Offices -- At the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) annual convention in Dover, DE this month, Secretary Fisher was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the organization.  Earlier this year, Fisher was elected Secretary of the Northeast Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NEASDA).