Fisher: NJFB can depend on support from NJDA
PRINCETON (Dec. 1, 2017) — Whether you are a smaller farmer or one who oversees hundreds of acres, the New JerseyDepartment of Agriculture has “got your back,” Secretary Douglas Fisher assured a crowd of several hundred farmers in attendance at the Westin Hotel here at Forrestal Village.
“I’ve heard lately the expression ‘I’ve got your back,’ and I’m hearing it a lot more recently,” Fisher told the crowd of interested farmers in his annual address at the 99th annual meeting of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
“Just recently I heard it said by Governor-elect Phil Murphy and I heard it again at a county ag dinner. In the context of the Farm Bureau, it’s true: the Farm Bureau does have your back as farmers. They eat, they sleep, and they exist for one purpose: to watch out for our farmers and farm families. Sometimes they charm, sometimes they coddle, sometimes they cajole, and often times, they have to go to battle depending on what you need.”
Fisher said he’ll often talk about things he’s seen around the state or in his travels around the country in the previous 12 months.
“I wanted this time to tell you, in case you didn’t know — how the Department of Agriculture also has your back. We work side by side, in conjunction with the Farm Bureau,” Fisher said. “We can’t always be in lock-step though, cause the department does at times wear a few more hats that statutorily, are required to serve its needs.
“Every year I come to the convention and talk about what I see as important trends and emerging opportunities. I’ve talked about hyper-local marketing in previous years and new crops,” he said. “As we expected we may be growing hemp in coming years.”
Fisher referenced a few examples of issues the New Jersey Department of Agriculture helped on that may not have gotten a lot of public attention but were meaningful to farmers.
“We were there when they were talking constantly about cutting the corporate business tax, and we knew that would be a sustained funding source for preserved farms. And we brought back deer fencing with preserved farms and soil and water conservation cost sharing, and we do hope you’ll take advantage of that,” he said. Fisher pointed out how the Department of Ag has done a lot of work in recent years with farm to school education.
“We want children to eat more healthily, but we also know it helps them to understand more about the farming economy and how farms help us get more fresh produce and fruits and vegetables into the schools,” Fisher said, noting the annual Farm to School Week, the last week in September, has become a big event in many school districts.
While some smaller farmers are looking at the Food Safety Modernization Act with trepidation, Fisher assured the crowd, the administration of new guidelines will fall under the NJDA, not the New Jersey Department of Health.
“I believe you’d rather have the Department of Ag coming around to your farm and asking all these questions, instead of the Department of Health, as it is with many states. In this state, it will be conducted by the Department of Agriculture,” Fisher said.
New Jersey was one of the first states in the nation to adopt humane livestock practices, yet at the same time, “we protect against over-zealous animal cruelty enforcement, and the State Board of Agriculture has been very active with this. We’ve been working to protect against the spread of animal diseases.” Fisher noted the state committee on investigation, SCI, determined the New Jersey’s Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was obviously over-zealous in many cases around the state.
The passage of interstate wine shipping laws has been a shot in the arm for Garden State wineries and vineyards, Fisher said, and thanks to direct wine shipping, “more of the world has taken notice of our award-winning wines.”
As far as promoting the Garden State’s bevy of homegrown vegetables and fruits, Fisher said he went to the agency’s public information division at least six years ago with ideas for Facebook and other forms of “social media.”
“I said ‘Let’s just do it,’ and we were the first state agency to do it. Now, many of you are using it in your businesses, and we’re promoting the heck out of it on our end, using SnapChat and some other sites. We’ve had 12 million hits on some of the videos we’ve put up,” on the internet, Fisher said.
Fisher pointed out the Jersey Fresh logo is one of the more easily recognized logos around the country. He also noted many employees in the relatively lean Department of Ag are cross-trained to do other jobs and tasks as well.
“The Jersey Fresh logo is really getting a lot of attention, made with Jersey Fresh, made with Jersey Grown,” he said, “and we’re going to have more Jersey Fresh bottled milk and [dairy farmer] Jared Weeks has an exclusively Jersey-made ice cream.”
In a highly urbanized state like New Jersey, nestled between two population centers in New York City and Philadelphia, some issues seem to reappear every couple of years.
“Just when you think everything is good again, they start to rear their heads again with someone new in the legislature or maybe someone in the Governor’s office, so we’re always looking out for you and we understand we have to be ever-vigilant,” he said.
Clean energy and the use of beneficial insects will be bigger concerns with the coming administration, Fisher said.
“It’s not about how we can regulate you or make it more difficult for you, or put up more rules and regulations, it’s how can we weave our way through so that you can continue to do what you do that is so vital to our state. The department is doing all that it can for you hard working farmers. It takes a lot of effort from a lot of dedicated people. We have a lot of smaller farmers in this state, but we also have a lot of really big farms here, too.”
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