|2000 Annual Report|
Throughout FY00, NJDA found itself blazing new trails to serve its many and varied constituencies. From the exhilaration of implementing the long-awaited stable source of funding for the state Farmland Preservation Program to the challenge of supporting the agriculture industry through the worst drought in nearly four decades, NJDA continued its efforts to maintain production agriculture's positive economic momentum.
NJDA's agenda included working with federal, state and private partners to ensure greater financial stability for New Jersey growers by enabling them to participate in a national risk management pilot program even as efforts continued to find better ways to protect those crops from the economic losses caused by marauding wildlife. At the same time, the department worked with equine owners and stone fruit growers to protect those industries from the ravages of animal and plant diseases never before seen in the Garden State.
In addition, NJDA worked to give our younger citizens a better start for their workday by providing school breakfasts to more children throughout the state under Governor Christie Whitman's new state funding initiative for the school breakfast program.
Always cognizant of consumer concerns about the safety of the food they purchase, NJDA seized the opportunity to work with a major nationwide food chain to develop a third-party farm-to-plate food safety audit procedure that may well become a national model.
Throughout FY00, the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture maintained its numerous educational, informational and outreach programs to keep all New Jerseyans abreast of the department's many initiatives for its constituent groups and the contributions of the agriculture industry to the economic and aesthetic well-being of the Garden State.
At the start of the fiscal year, Governor Christie Whitman signed legislation to implement the Garden State Trust Fund for the preservation of open space and farmland, putting in place a long-term stable funding source for farmland preservation. The legislation also established a process to determine the value of farmland in the Pinelands as an inducement to permanently preserve farms in that area.
Under the Garden State Trust Fund, an average of $98 million will be dedicated annually from sales taxes to fund purchases of farmland preservation easements and other open space for the next ten years. Thanks to the stable funding provided by the Trust, the SADC funded two preservation rounds in the same calendar year. Through them, the SADC authorized the permanent preservation of 227 farms totaling 19,272 acres.
During FY00, 76 farms on 11,262 acres were preserved, bringing program totals to 432 farms covering 64,738 acres permanently protected since the program's establishment in 1983.
As July 1999 drew to a close, it was obvious that rainfall levels were significantly below "normal" years and the state's agriculture industry was clearly in the grip of a severe drought. Early in August, Governor Whitman declared a drought emergency and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) established mandatory restrictions and water use guidelines.
NJDA worked with New Jersey Farm Bureau, Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association to obtain modifications in the restrictions related to the nursery and sod industry so that producers and marketers could maintain plant growth and health in accordance with industry standards and water conservation plans.
In mid-August Governor Whitman authorized NJDA to set up a toll-free hot-line number for farmers who needed information about programs and services to help them deal with the now devastating effects of the drought. NJDA personnel staffing the hot-line offered callers information about how to register crop losses with USDA's Farm Service Agency to begin the process to qualify for the low-interest loans available under a USDA disaster declaration issued at the beginning of August.
Callers were also told how to get grain and field corn tested at no cost for nitrates and mycotoxins to ensure that it would be safe to feed to livestock; how to obtain emergency supplies of water for livestock; advised of sources of financial advice and assistance in restructuring existing farm debt to weather the current crisis; given details on an emergency program established for those interested in selling farmland development rights to the state Farmland Preservation Program to help with cashflow problems; given names and phone numbers of resources such as agriculture extension agents, regional Farm Service Agency offices, local Soil Conservation District offices, regional First Pioneer Farm Credit offices and local stress management counselors to support farm families in crisis.
As time went by, virtually every sector of the agriculture industry felt the impact of the dry weather as irrigation ponds dried up and the lack of rain made soil difficult to till.
Vegetable growers were stretched to the limit, battling low prices because of competition from other states as well as low production resulting from the drought and heat. Production costs soared as irrigation pumps ran almost round the clock and crews worked to salvage rapidly ripening product from the intense heat in the fields.
Grain growers were also hard hit, with those who also produced livestock or ran dairy herds feeling the drought's effects even more intensely. Few grain growers were able to harvest much for sale, but those involved in livestock and dairy cattle were also forced to find alternative feed sources for their animals as the hay, grain and pasture they raised for their own animals succumbed to the weather.
Sod growers were reluctant to deliver sod to customers who would be unable to keep the sod alive under current water restrictions, meaning that growers would have to replace it at their own cost.
Routine summer nursery inspections showed major drought damage to nursery stock, both trees and shrubs, throughout the state and especially in Hunterdon County. Pine, spruce, dogwood and maple seemed hardest hit as were new landscape plantings around the state.
Beekeepers began reporting honey crop losses of between 30 to 70 percent due to the drought. They began to fear that the lack of rain would severely impact the fall honey flow, requiring many beekeepers to feed the hives heavily to get the bees ready to overwinter.
Throughout August and September NJDA continued its efforts to coordinate and disseminate information about sources of free and low-cost hay, grain and transportation services. A hay directory was compiled, detailing all available information, and mailed to more than 1,000 dairy, livestock and equine producers. It was also posted to NJDA's website, along with links to sources in several other states.
Because drought-stressed grain and ensilage can contain toxins potentially dangerous to animals that ingest it, NJDA assisted livestock producers with nitrate and mycotoxin testing of field corn and grain and assessed the existence of toxins in the crops. NJDA coordinated the program with Cook College and Rutgers Cooperative Extension to let growers take samples to county extension offices for preliminary nitrate screening and, if needed, further testing by NJDA's contract laboratory.
The FY00 Legislators' Tour highlighted Somerset County agriculture, home to some of the state's hardest hit grain fields. About 100 of the state's top policymakers got a first-hand look at a variety of agricultural operations and the effect of the drought on each farm.
At the end of the tour, legislative leaders announced their intention to propose legislation in the upcoming session to provide millions of dollars in state drought relief to farmers.
Talk of a drought relief package turned rapidly to a far-reaching disaster relief package when the fourth worst drought of the century came to a dramatic and, in some areas, equally devastating end in mid-September. The remains of Hurricane Floyd hit New Jersey hard, dropping in most cases a foot or more of water in just a few hours. The torrential downpours cut a swath across the northeastern and north-central portions of the state, leaving drought-decimated fields under several feet of water and causing several hundred million dollars in flood-related damage in the region.
By the end of October, the Legislature passed and Governor Whitman signed the Emergency Disaster Relief Act of 1999. The bill appropriated $80 million in state funds, $60 million for disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Floyd and $20 million for the drought of 1999.
The $20 million was earmarked for NJDA grants, zero- and low-interest loans and other financial assistance to farmers who experienced agricultural damage or loss due to the 1999 drought. To streamline the state grant program process for eligible farmers, NJDA worked with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) which administered a separate federal disaster assistance program for which many New Jersey growers were also eligible.
Thanks to the state drought relief program, more than 1,100 grain growers, livestock producers, dairymen and other farmers statewide received grants averaging $22,500 under the state program while 117 livestock/dairy farmers shared almost $400,000 in reimbursement for hay that had to be purchased for feed.
FY00 was the second year of the agricultural Conservation Cost-Share Program (CCSP), which provides technical and financial assistance to implement agricultural conservation projects that enhance water quality. The state's $2 million in CCSP funding, together with the $680,000 federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program, funded 93 projects, 25 involving livestock management and 68 covering soil and water management.
West Nile Virus Comes To New Jersey
Even as the weather took its toll on the state's livestock health and feed sources, equine owners and breeders in the New York metropolitan area were faced with the arrival of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus (WNV) in the Western Hemisphere for the first time. Although the disease claimed several equine victims in New York State, no New Jersey horses evidenced any symptoms of WNV infection in 1999, possibly because the drought that gripped the state kept mosquito levels low.
However, with no vaccine or drug treatment available, and with evidence in New York of overwintering of WNV in mosquitoes, prevention of the disease during the approaching 2000 mosquito season became a priority. Working with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's State Mosquito Control Commission and Rutgers Cooperative Extension, NJDA helped to develop a comprehensive plan outlining preventive, control and diagnostic measures, including testing of mosquitoes, sentinel flocks, wild birds and mammals. Testing commenced on May 1, 2000, and would continue until mosquito populations decreased significantly in the fall.
During early summer 2000, NJDA representatives participated in daily teleconferences involving officials in New York and other surrounding states and the national Center for Disease Control concerning the unfolding West Nile Virus epidemic. The department also alerted all large animal veterinarians in New Jersey to the anticipated occurrence of the disease within New Jersey, urging them to encourage their clients and others to carefully monitor areas surrounding stables and horse barns for mosquito breeding grounds.
NJDA's animal health laboratory contracted with the State Mosquito Control Commission to test blood drawn from sentinel chickens at locations around the state. In addition, laboratory personnel worked closely with the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, IA, to develop a three-tiered testing protocol on any equine blood and tissue samples forwarded by veterinarians as suspected West Nile cases.
Plum pox, a serious virus disease previously found only outside the United States, was detected mid-year in a commercial fruit orchard in Adams County, PA, close to areas where New Jersey fruit growers purchase propagative material. The strain of plum pox detected can only be spread through infected plants, including budwood and rootstock, and is easily transmitted by aphids that feed on infected trees.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture quickly established a quarantine to prohibit the movement of stone fruit trees and budwood within and out of the quarantined area. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine section began working immediately with NJDA staff, New Jersey stone fruit growers and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension to discuss recommendations for eradication, possible quarantine action, and survey plans for the months ahead.
During FY00, the State Board of Agriculture convened a broad-based agricultural group to explore the expansion of USDA/Risk Management Program's pilot crop revenue insurance program, Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR), to New Jersey. The group consisted of representatives from NJDA, Cook College, New Jersey Farm Bureau, New Jersey Agricultural Statistics Service (NJASS), USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff and the farm community. The AGR program allows farmers to ensure gross farm revenue for multiple agricultural commodities.
The group held a number of sessions to educate farmers about the program, directed the research of crop data, submitted an application for the program expansion and coordinated a week-long visit by personnel from the USDA's Risk Management Program to see first-hand the various farming operations in New Jersey. The group drafted a risk assessment of the various agricultural commodities to be covered by the pilot program and submitted it to the USDA for consideration. The pilot program is expected to be approved by USDA in the fall and include separate pilot project areas for northern and southern New Jersey.
For several years, the economic impact of wildlife has been a key concern of the farm community, NJDA and the State Board of Agriculture. This year, the Board established a special committee consisting of farmers and representatives from NJDA, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), New Jersey Farm Bureau, and Cook College. The group worked closely with the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, NJDEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife and legislative leaders to strengthen the state's wildlife management policy.
In consultation with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the committee completed The 1999 Governor's Report on Deer Management in New Jersey which indicated the need for new tools and approaches to deal with the state's over-abundance of deer. The committee successfully sought legislation for $200,000 which was used to fund research and education at the Cook/NJAES Center for Wildlife Damage Control; create special community-based deer management programs; and make the venison donation program permanent for hunters who wished to participate. The committee also supported the Fish and Game Council's effort to establish a black bear hunt for the 2000-2001 season along with other needed Game Code changes to control wildlife. The committee continues to work with USDA's Wildlife Services to control the state's geese populations.
FY00's $1.16 million Jersey Fresh promotional and advertising program helped to maintain local consumer awareness and preference for Jersey Fresh farm products. Three new seasonal 30-second television commercials were produced and aired on major network and cable stations in the tri-state region. Together with print and radio ads, the program reached well over 100 million consumers.
Governor Whitman's FY00 budget appropriated almost $2 million for an aggressive campaign called "Food for Thought" that underscored the importance of a good breakfast for every student in the Garden State. Under the new campaign, NJDA used brochures, television and radio commercials, advertisements in newspapers and educational magazines, billboards and panels on the sides of public buses to raise public awareness of the program.
New Jersey is one of just three states in the nation that provide a state subsidy for school breakfasts for all children. NJDA's five-year goal is to increase breakfast participation to 40 percent of those students who currently participate in the school lunch program on a daily basis.
With food safety concerns increasingly on the minds of American consumers, more wholesale and retail buyers are asking farmers to submit to costly third-party audits that can determine whether they are growing, harvesting, packing and handling their products in a safe and sanitary manner.
To provide Garden State growers with an effective, economical alternative to this process, NJDA launched a new initiative in FY00 in partnership with Safeway, a nationwide supermarket chain, to establish a third-party audit program for growers and shippers of fresh produce. As a result, NJDA became the first state agriculture department in the nation to receive private sector approval to carry out third-party audits.
NJDA staff worked with the staff at Rutgers Cooperative Extension to hold training sessions for farmers and produce inspectors. The program will be available to New Jersey growers under our fee-for-service inspection program.
During FY00, its fourth full year of operation, Farmers Against Hunger (FAH) rescued almost 1.2 million pounds of produce. The fresh fruits and vegetables were distributed to more than 100,000 people statewide through a network of churches, shelters, senior and day care centers, as well as all of the state's food banks. More than 426,000 pounds of produce were collected directly from farms in FY00. FAH's corps of volunteers continued to grow, as did the number of participating farms, which reached 44 this year. Due to the enormous success of the program, FAH has gained a national reputation for spearheading produce recovery from packing houses, farm markets and produce distributors, as well as through gleanings from farm fields.
FAH is a collaborative effort between NJDA, the New Jersey Agricultural Society, the New Jersey Farm Bureau and Rutgers Cooperative Extension. Additional funding was provided in FY00 by a number of private and non-profits groups, as well as a USDA Fund for Rural America grant, and a New Jersey Department of Community Affairs block nutrition grant.