Drought - On March 4, Governor McGreevey declared a water emergency asking the Department of Environmental Protection to issue statewide, mandatory water-use restrictions in an effort to avert more serious limits on water consumption in the coming months. Prior to issuance of the restrictions, the Department of Agriculture arranged a meeting with DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell and members of the agricultural industry. They clearly and strongly articulated the devastating consequences water use restrictions would have on the industry; as a result, the impacts to agriculture during the first phase of restrictions are minimal.
The watering of agricultural food crops, sod at commercial sod farms, and the watering of nursery stock at nurseries or retail outlets is permitted, provided that watering is done according to best management practices (BMP's). Homeowners are permitted to water new plantings of trees, shrubs, flower and vegetable gardens during limited hours. Lawn watering is restricted throughout the state. Holders of water allocation permits who use more than 100,000 gallons a day must file a drought emergency contingency plan that outlines how they would reduce water usage in increments from 10 percent to 50 percent. The Department is working to develop a one-page, simplified reporting form to assist agricultural users in meeting this requirement. DEP is also holding in abeyance new or modified Water Allocation permits, holders of current permits may not exceed the previous two-year average monthly rate for a given month.
The Department established an Agriculture Drought Emergency Task Force made up of representatives of Rutgers, Farm Bureau, and other farmer and industry organizations. This group will serve as a resource to the Department in the preparation of industry water plans; provide technical information on the development of BMP's for agricultural water use; advise and provide recommendations on matters related to the current water emergency; and assist in outreach to the farm community on water conservation and water use restrictions. The first meeting of the task force will be on April 3rd.
Strategic plan - The Department is continuing to develop a Strategic Plan that will set forth our major goals, the strategies we will use to achieve them and performance measures to determine how successful we are. The plan will form the foundation for department activities and budget priorities through June 2004.
Communications - Communications activities for the next three months will focus on three major themes: finding new, smarter ways of doing business, including exploring new marketing opportunities, restructuring the Jersey Fresh promotional program, and seeking comments from the farm community through Kitchen Table tours; the importance of farmland preservation in strengthening the agricultural industry and promoting smart growth; and the need to encourage and equip the next generation of farmers to ensure a strong agricultural industry in the future. Dozens of events/announcements are planned to promote these messages.
Farm Bill -In preparation for a House and Senate compromise on the Farm Bill, the department reviewed program titles and funding levels in order to support recommendations that can benefit agriculture in New Jersey. On the traditional commodity programs, the House version offers a more favorable program and pay schedule, while the Senate package offers New Jersey farmers improved funding opportunities for environmental program cost-share.
Budget -Governor McGreevey yesterday presented his annual budget message to a joint session of the Legislature. This proposal closes a $5.3 billion shortfall. The Department's overall budget is reduced by $3.3 million to just over $21.5M. The Governor has made it clear that New Jersey can live within its means and protect its priorities. With that in mind, the proposed budget continues all of our essential programs and enables the Department to continue to provide the same quality level of services to the agricultural community and consumers.
Issue Teams - As part of the strategic plan process and to improve delivery of services, the Department is creating issue teams in the following areas: Food Safety, Smart Growth, Aquaculture, Dairy, Ag Industry Development and Water Quality. The teams will be made up of appropriate people from different divisions who will work together to coordinate the Department response to issues in these areas. Two teams under way are Smart Growth and Aquaculture.
Philadelphia Business Privilege License Tax - Since 1998, the City of Philadelphia has required every individual, partnership, association and corporation to register for the Business Privilege Tax if they have an "active presence" in the City. Philadelphia's standard for "active presence" does not require a taxpayer to maintain an actual physical location within the City; all that is required is that a business pursues profit and gain within the City. This standard has been met if an out-of-state business spends as little as three days during a calendar year in Philadelphia soliciting sales or if delivery of goods to a merchant in the City is made in a vehicle the out-of-state business owns. (If a common carrier is used for delivery, the standard has not been established). More about Philadelphia's Business Privilege License and the various taxes can be obtained from the City's web site at http://www.phila.gov/revenue/.
Motor Vehicle Regulations - Over the past few months, the Department has been working on several issues related to motor vehicles. Problems in both New York City and Pennsylvania over Farmer Tags and Commercial Drivers Licenses have prompted a review of agreements between states in the region and of exemptions via reciprocity agreements. Currently, New Jersey has a written International Registration Plan (IRP) agreement with Pennsylvania, and will continue to work on developing a New York agreement. The Department has prepared a two-page summary of the basic federal and state statues and regulations impacting New Jersey farmers (attached). This information will be placed on the department's web site. There have also been changes to the rules for agricultural licenses for 16- and 17-year-olds. Those who are 16 must now complete four steps to get a basic unrestricted license and must start the process with an Agriculture Permit. More on this can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/mvs/gdl/agriculture.html
Animal Welfare Rally- On April 7th and 8th in Trenton, Farm Sanctuary - a national animal rights group - will hold a meeting and protest rally in Trenton to draw attention to the issue of humane care of farm animals in the United States. New Jersey was the first state in the nation to pass legislation calling for the development for farm animal care standards and, therefore, is a focus of this two-day event. The department is currently drafting those guidelines. The rally will be led by actress Mary Tyler Moore and is expected to generate media attention.