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Report Presented in New Jersey Cites Innovation Success Stories in 10 States

For Immediate Release: June 16, 2004


Jeff Beach




(TRENTON) – Farmers in the northeastern United States must adapt to new and emerging markets, grow crops more efficiently and educate the next generation about the importance of farming in order to survive the region’s development pressures, a report issued as part of a regional conference on agriculture concluded.

The report, “Repositioning Northeastern Agriculture: Building on the Region’s Past and Present to Prepare for its Future,” was presented today on the last day of the Northeastern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NEASDA) annual meeting in Long Branch.

“We in the Northeast have long lamented how much of our farmland has disappeared to residential and commercial development,” said New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus, the current NEASDA president and host of the meeting. “We are now focused on making the best of the situation by preserving what farmland is left, strengthening the vitality of our farms by boosting existing markets and adapting to new ones, and equipping the next generation to be good stewards of our agrarian tradition.”

NEASDA is made up of 10 states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The report cited numerous ways in which farmers and agriculture officials in those states have already adapted to the changing face of their industry.

These examples were cited:

- New Jersey has studied ethnic population concentrations and the produce offered at farmers markets near those centers to alert growers to unmet demands for agricultural products specific to ethnic diets.
- Pennsylvania is pushing to establish supermarkets in underserved rural and urban locations, which would provide more outlets from which to sell Pennsylvania-grown products.
- Vermont has become a leader in the emerging “agri-tourism” business, luring visitors to vacations on working farms as an alternative to staying in hotels, inns or bed-and-breakfasts.
- Rhode Island has battled back from a low of just two farmers’ markets statewide before 1990 and used federal grants to spur interest. The state now has 20 such markets, including four run by the Division of Agriculture in state parks.
- New York is encouraging its school students to think more about eating fresh produce and, in some cases, setting up School Gardens where they harvest their own.
- Connecticut is emphasizing the state’s food processors with a specialty foods guide, while also providing technical and marketing assistance to small and mid-sized food-production businesses.
- Delaware has aggressively pursued the siting of a biodiesel facility that would both help to improve air quality in the state and consume vast quantities of soybean, the state’s number-one crop.
- Maine provides fresh, unprocessed, locally grown produce for free to low-income senior citizens through a $100-per-share program that supplies produce to agencies feeding lower-income seniors.
- Massachusetts established a Farm Viability Enhancement Program, including consultants who work with farmers to draw up plans to boost producers’ bottom lines through diversification, direct marketing and value-added initiatives.
- New Hampshire’s Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture has reached out to groups not normally included in the farm-preservation dialogue and is educating community planners about integrating agriculture into their plans.

The report also noted the growing importance of horticulture and aquaculture as major sectors of the region’s agricultural landscape. In many of the NEASDA states, horticulture accounts for the largest percentage of locally grown products sold. That demand, ironically, has come from the residential and commercial development of former farmland, leading to the need for more landscaping products. Since most of the NEASDA states border the Atlantic Ocean or its bays, both caught and raised seafood account for another large portion of agricultural products.

“This report gives us both a clear look at where we’ve been and a solid roadmap for how we get to where we’re going,” said Secretary Kuperus. “The successes Northeastern states have had are not an accident. They are the result of recognizing and then seizing opportunities for agricultural growth. Far from being pessimistic about agriculture’s future, we should be optimistic about the examples of innovation provided in this report.”

This report will lead to a more comprehensive NEASDA report that will be released by the end of the year.

To read the full report, click here.