WHEREAS, the Department’s five Divisions – Agricultural and Natural Resources, Animal Health, Food and Nutrition, Marketing and Development, and Plant Industry – handle a wide range of issues facing New Jersey’s $84 billion food and agriculture industry, including but not limited to: ensuring food safety for New Jersey residents; helping agriculture to co-exist with environmental regulations; providing proper nutrition to school children and the hungry; ensuring the humane treatment of livestock; administering the Jersey Fresh grading and marketing program; and protecting New Jersey’s native plant life from pests and invasive plant species; and
WHEREAS, the Department also encompasses the State Agriculture Development Committee, which oversees farmland preservation in New Jersey and which, to date, has preserved approximately 170,000 acres of farmland; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Agriculture has a close working relationship with its colleagues in the state, including Rutgers, the NJAES/Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and leading agriculture organizations and commodity groups, as well as its federal partners, such as USDA, the New Jersey offices of NRCS, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, and other regional USDA offices; and
WHEREAS, in the past year alone, the Department has, individually or in partnership with other agencies:
- Achieved a declaration of eradication for the Asian longhorned beetle in the Jersey City/Hoboken area in April 2008. This voracious tree-killing non-native pest, was declared eradicated after more than a five-year effort to rid Hudson County of the beetle. First found in Jersey City in October 2002, the beetle caused the removal of more than 430 trees from the area, including 113 that were infested. Those trees were replaced through a grant of more than $477,000 from the USDA. With no beetles detected in Hudson County since the tree removal in 2002-03, the area was declared officially free of the pest. A similar effort continues in the Middlesex-Union County infestation, which began in August 2004.
- Increased the number of Community Farmers Markets statewide to 111, with the opening of 17 new markets. New Jersey is expanding its community farmers markets at nearly three times the rate of other states, as urban and suburban communities realize the economic benefits of attracting such markets to revitalize moribund downtowns. Many of the state’s markets are in urban areas traditionally underserved by supermarkets and other grocery retailers.
- Expanded the use of the program that promotes consumption of Jersey Fresh fruits, vegetables and other products by senior citizens. Using an additional $500,000 in federal funding through the Farm Bill, the program increased by 20,000 the number of seniors who receive four $5 checks that are valid through November 30 for the purchase of items from farmers markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture operations.
- Quickly responded to a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella saintpaul, which cost the tomato industry in other parts of the country an estimated $100 million or more in lost sales. New Jersey tomato farmers were aided by the Department’s swift action to have the FDA classify the state’s tomatoes as unrelated to the Salmonella outbreak, thereby ensuring consumers they were safe to eat. Using lessons learned from the 2006 E. coli spinach outbreak, the Department acted quickly to have Jersey tomatoes added to the FDA’s “safe list” since they were not on the market at the onset of the Salmonella outbreak. The Department prepared signage alerting consumers to that fact, which retailers posted in their produce aisles to inform shoppers that Jersey tomatoes were not implicated in the illness.
- Working with the Department of Health and Senior Services and Rutgers University’s Food Innovation Center, published a “plain language guide to Chapter 24,” which guides farmers market managers and vendors, as well as health officials, in the rules for selling prepared foods such as baked goods, jams and salsas at farmers markets. The guide was a response to concerns expressed by some health officials in 2007 that prepared foods are not allowed to be made in home kitchens but rather must be made in licensed, inspected community or commercial kitchens.
- Showed positive results in the gypsy moth caterpillar spray program and related control efforts, as the rate of increase in gypsy moth populations slowed for the first time in recent years. The Department’s aerial defoliation survey showed 339,240 acres of trees defoliated, compared to 320,610 acres in 2007. That 19,000-acre increase was dramatically less than an increase of nearly 200,000 acres from 2006 to 2007 (125,743 acres in 2006 to 320,610 in 2007). Two of the three hardest-hit counties – Burlington and Ocean – actually saw decreases in damage from 2007 to 2008.
- Preserved a total of 80 farms covering more than 6,800 acres in 2008, boosting farmland preservation totals to 1,725 farms covering approximately 170,000 acres since the inception of the Farmland Preservation Program.
- The State Agriculture Development Committee in 2008 also granted final approvals to comprehensive farmland preservation plans developed by five counties and preliminary approvals to plans developed by an additional 10 counties under its new County Planning Incentive Grant Program, which encourages counties to strategically plan not only for farmland preservation but for retaining agriculture as an industry. Under its Municipal Planning Incentive Grant Program, 37 municipalities submitted comprehensive farmland preservation plans that complement and nest into the county plans. Altogether, the county and municipal plans target the preservation of more than 4,100 farms covering 240,000 acres.
- The Department in 2008 chose 25 schools to participate in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program for the 2008-2009 school year. The 2008 Farm Bill provided additional funding, allowing eight more New Jersey schools to be included in the program. The total funding for the program is now $1,100,044. The fruit and vegetable education program provides fresh and dried fruits and fresh vegetables throughout the school day to teach students the importance of good nutrition and the benefits of including fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet, as well as increasing their consumption of produce.
- In May, launched a new website geared toward students interested in agricultural careers and teachers who either currently are or would like to instruct students in agricultural education. The site – www.jerseyageducation.nj.gov – features sections on the New Jersey FFA Association, listings of related college scholarships and nearby universities offering agricultural study programs and resources to help students decide on a career path, select a supervised agricultural program and find college financial aid.
- Along with state and national agricultural organizations and legislators, was a leading force in forging a coalition in Congress to move federal farm policy more toward aiding farmers who grow Specialty Crops – the array of fruits, vegetables and other products typical of New Jersey farms. By focusing on the interaction between agriculture, nutrition and conservation programs, the coalition shaped a Farm Bill that is much more beneficial to states like New Jersey, where farming occurs close to where people live and much of what is grown is sold directly to the public.
- Continued surveillance for, and preparations to deal with, Avian Influenza (AI), including participation in multiple drills designed to test the readiness of various agencies and industries to respond to an outbreak of highly pathogenic AI.
- Pursued, through the Produce Safety Task Force, the training of approximately 1,000 farmers in food safety basics while also advocating national standards for produce safety and continuing to examine the best ways to ensure that New Jersey producers meet new, higher food-safety standards that may come from government action or from within the produce industry.
- Implemented an $85,000 Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) grant from USDA to perform “mock audits” for New Jersey farmers to experience what would be expected of them in a third-party food-safety audit and to better prepare them to successfully complete those audits.
- Implemented the third round of Governor Corzine’s Hunger Initiative, allocating $3 million to bring more food to New Jersey’s hungry, with an emphasis on buying locally produced food first.
- Teamed with the New York Jets to promote increased healthy eating among school students.
- Continued providing education programs in conjunction with conservation partners to teach school students about the importance of natural resource conservation in coordination with the 15 Soil Conservation Districts.
- Continued hosting the Agricultural Education Program, which is responsible for providing statewide leadership, resources and services for quality food, agriculture and environmental science education programs in local school districts. The program administers grant initiatives for schools delivering agricultural education, professional development for teachers, the FFA organization (educational organization for students enrolled in secondary agricultural education program), and application processes for students to develop their work-based learning.
- Continued developing a coherent regulatory framework for both aquaculture and wild harvest fisheries, and proactively advocated for and advised these industries by developing business plans, helping to formulate value-added fishery products, accesses international and domestic markets, securing federal funding for industry initiatives, and developing regulations to support the growth of the aquaculture industry.
- Implemented orders to improve the economic viability of the state’s dairy producers by facilitating payments to producers for their raw milk that mitigate the rising costs of fuel.
- Teamed with the New Jersey Restaurant Association to increase the use of locally produced items in their members’ dishes and to promote their efforts to include Jersey Fresh produce, Jersey Seafood and other agricultural products whenever possible.
- Continued working with Rutgers University to attract new beekeepers to the industry to ensure the health and safety of hives existing in New Jersey.
- Worked within the multi-agency Biofuels Action Group, which meets biweekly at the Department, with the aim of creating an environment in which companies producing biofuels or energy from crops or agricultural waste can thrive.
- Completed 83 and made progress on 17 of the 100 Economic Development Strategies adopted by the delegates to the 2008 State Agricultural Convention.
- Improved the efficiency and effectiveness of Department operations by continuing to cross-train personnel, restructure programs, improve inter-divisional collaboration and increasing cooperative efforts with other state and federal agencies, and private industry to continue meeting its core missions; and
WHEREAS, the above list is far from exhaustive and does not include the hundreds of routine tasks accomplished each week in inspecting, regulating, promoting and otherwise aiding agriculture in the State of New Jersey; and
WHEREAS, the Department also works at both the state and federal levels to ensure that the interests of New Jersey’s agricultural community are effectively communicated to legislators and that the laws they pass are not detrimental to agricultural producers in this state; and
WHEREAS, the Department is committed to keeping New Jersey’s agricultural community ahead of the curve in changes to the dynamics of the industry in New Jersey, tracking those changes and advising agricultural producers on how to adapt their operations to capitalize on them; and
WHEREAS, the Department annually proposes more than 100 Economic Development Strategies to aid the 10 major sectors of New Jersey agriculture in making the most of production and market trends; and
WHEREAS, the Department takes an active role in representing the interests of New Jersey’s agricultural community as part of the Northeastern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NEASDA) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA); and
WHEREAS, the Department accomplishes this myriad of regulatory and promotional goals with a minimal workforce and a lean, efficiency-driven budget, giving New Jersey’s agricultural community and general public the biggest “bang for their buck”; and
WHEREAS, the Department’s state-founded FY09 budget was reduced by 18 percent in FY09, at a time when the average budget reduction across all state departments was 6 percent; and
WHEREAS, the Department’s FY09 budget has been proposed for an additional 18 percent reduction as part of further cost-cutting measures aimed at reducing an ongoing budget deficit; and
WHEREAS, the Department’s workforce has been reduced by more than 40 positions since FY06, from 263 to a projected 218 by the end of FY09; and
WHEREAS, New Jersey’s agricultural community enthusiastically showed its support for the Department in April 2008 by rallying in Trenton to protest the Department’s proposed elimination, and the community feels just as strongly that the Department is run efficiently and effectively, has done an outstanding job in controlling its costs over the past several years, and has already shouldered more than its fair share of budgetary restrictions as the State works to craft a balanced budget.
NOW, THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 94th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 10, 2009, do hereby commend the New Jersey Department of Agriculture for its outstanding work in helping to keep agriculture green and growing in the “Garden State.”
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the efforts of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to continue setting a high standard of service to the agricultural community and the residents of the State of New Jersey.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the Governor and the State Legislature to provide the New Jersey Department of Agriculture with the budgetary tools and resources necessary to continue effectively and efficiently serving the interests of agriculture and the residents of the State of New Jersey.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the Legislature and Governor to ensure that the NJDA not have higher percentages of budget cuts than any other department in the state, as it consistently has seen in the past several years.