The Department of Agriculture serves many constituencies. Its programs and services range from the protection of farmland and animal and plant resources to the distribution of millions of pounds of federally donated foods to New Jersey's schoolchildren and neediest citizens.
Agriculture must continually evolve to adapt to changing market demand, new technology anda host of other challenges. To respond to those challenges and to better meet the needs of our constituents, the Department of Agriculture in 2002 undertook a comprehensive planning process to reassess its goals and operations.
This process culminated in July with the issuance of the Department's first Strategic Plan, which identifies the agency's major goals, the strategies for achieving them and performance standards to measure progress and success. The plan - which will guide policies and activities through June 2004 - was developed through an inclusive process led by the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture, the department's policy-making body.
The Plan identifies seven major goals:
The seven goals of the Strategic Plan serve as the headings for the Accomplishments section of this annual report. The list of accomplishments in each section details progress that has been made toward achieving each goal and realizing the Department's overall vision of a productive and profitable agricultural and food industry that protects the natural resources that sustain it, benefits the overall environment, and supports the health and welfare of the general public.
The Strategic Plan served as the framework for addressing a number of key issues in 2002.
New Jersey's 9,600 family farms contribute to the quality of life in our communities in many ways. Agriculture's working landscapes provide natural buffers against congestion and sprawl. They also offer us direct access to the freshest, high-quality farm products, helping to continue the way of life that earned New Jersey the nickname of the Garden State.
To protect our farms and our communities, New Jersey has undertaken one of the most aggressive farmland preservation efforts in the nation. In December 2002, the state surpassed the 100,000-acre mark for farmland preservation - a significant milestone that has helped make New Jersey the national leader in farmland preservation.
But preserving farmland is only half the battle in saving our working landscape. To retain our farms, we also must ensure farmers are economically successful so they can afford to stay and work on that land.
The Department of Agriculture in 2002 began developing an Agricultural Smart Growth Plan. The plan will coordinate farmland preservation efforts with proactive strategies aimed at sustaining the state's agricultural industry and ensuring farmers have a bright and profitable future. Designed to be nested into the state's overall smart growth strategy, the plan will identify:
The wider the marketplace for their products, the more opportunities farmers have to be successful. The Department in 2002 aggressively focused new efforts on expanding markets for New Jersey farmers and food producers. Those efforts included:
At the request of Governor McGreevey, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in October approved a federal drought disaster designation for New Jersey, making farmers who suffered significant crop losses due to the extended 2002 drought eligible for federal financial assistance.
The designation applied to 19 primary counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex and Warren. The declaration made farmers in those counties eligible to apply for low-interest emergency loans and farm credit programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. Farmers in counties contiguous to primary counties also were eligible for this assistance.
The Department of Agriculture coordinated with the federal Farm Service Agency, which compiled county summaries of crop damage that supported the drought declaration request. The Department also worked with the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure agricultural exemptions from water use restrictions.
2002 Growing Season Conditions
Field Crops: The lack of rainfall throughout the growing season took a toll on the corn crop. Persistent dry weather caused poor pollination and hindered crop development in some corn fields. Lighter test weights, smaller ears and lower kernel quality were commonly found. Some producers reported low ear-to-stalk ratio, which lowered crop output. Rainfall during the later half of the fall season was too late to boost yields and kernel fill. Drought conditions produced lower soybean yields with low test weights and small pod size. Yields varied greatly due to timeliness and amounts of rainfall received. Soybean yields were reported to be higher from early or very late planted fields. Spring rains provided beneficial moisture for winter wheat and barley crops. Warm weather and clear skies provided excellent harvest conditions for wheat and barley. Crop production and yields were above previous year's levels. Some hay cuttings were delayed or missed due to drought conditions.
Fruit: Northern New Jersey growers experienced frost damage
during apple bloom stage. Some orchards also faced sizing
problems to the extent that some fruit was too small to
market. Unfavorable growing conditions during fruit
development also lowered apple production. The blueberry
crop's bloom set was average despite some frost damage.
There was no significant weather damage reported. Drought
conditions did not adversely affect the cranberry crop.
Cranberry harvest was hindered in some areas due to low
reservoir levels caused by lack of rainfall. Spring frost
severely damaged peach blossoms. Production of some
varieties was very limited due to frost damage.
Vegetables: Dry conditions did not adversely affect the
cabbage crop. Cabbage yields and prices were above normal.
Tight supplies drove head lettuce prices upward. The bulk
of bell pepper harvest season was complete by the middle of
October due to dry weather conditions. Crop yields for soft
shell squash were lower due to hot and dry growing
conditions. Drought conditions lowered sweet corn
production, especially in non-irrigated fields. Tomato
harvest activities were also shortened by drought
conditions. The dry summer growing conditions did not
adversely affect the summer potato crop. Potato size was
slightly smaller than usual, but the quality and quantity
were good. Growing conditions for the sweet potato crop were
favorable, with good quality and high prices.