|Annual Report 1999|
FY99 was an exciting, productive, yet challenging, year for the long-term viability of the Garden State's agriculture industry, in terms of both goals achieved and ground work laid for continuing programs designed to keep the industry productive and profitable. The department's efforts reflected a thorough analysis of the agriculture industry which generated an action agenda for its future.
The department offered numerous educational, informational and outreach programs that touched the lives of virtually every citizen during the year, such as year-round breakfast and lunch programs for school children and other at-risk populations, livestock and plant health testing and certification programs, soil and water conservation efforts and many others outlined in this report. Throughout the year the department continued its efforts to make New Jerseyans aware of agriculture's economic and aesthetic benefits, not only through its own public information program but through cooperation with other state and federal agencies and agricultural organizations.
Among the year's highlights were the long-awaited establishment of a stable source of funding for the next decade of acquisitions under the state Farmland Preservation Program and national awards for marketing excellence presented to the Jersey Fresh agricultural commodity promotion program.
The year started on a positive note with Governor Christie Whitman's announcement of her determination to preserve at least one million acres of open space, including 500,000 acres of farmland, in the next decade. She proposed that the acquisitions be paid for by the dedication of $98 million a year from general revenues which would underwrite bond sales to fund the actual acquisition of development easements.
Thanks to her vigorous leadership, in November voters overwhelmingly approved public question number one, authorizing the amendment of New Jersey's constitution to fund the Garden State Open Space Initiative. In addition to funding farmland preservation, the measure also provided for Green Acres acquisitions and restoration of properties of historic importance.
During the course of the campaign for this stable funding source, the Governor joined other state and local officials to celebrate the preservation of the 50,000th acre of farmland by the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC), which administers the Farmland Preservation Program. This historic milestone in the program's history involved the Mason Farm in Readington Township, Hunterdon County.
In addition to leading the effort to develop a stable funding mechanism for farmland and open space preservation, Governor Whitman signed legislation amending New Jersey's Right to Farm Act. The amendments strengthened the law's protections for responsible farming practices, established a conflict resolution mechanism beginning at the county level, authorized the SADC to establish acceptable agricultural management practices, and required preparation of agriculture impact statements when state agencies propose regulations.
Last fiscal year was a difficult one for the Garden State's dairy farmers during which the department established a temporary emergency order setting a six-month minimum price for Class 1 milk and lobbied strenuously in both the State Legislature and in Congress to insure New Jersey's ability to join an expanded Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact. This latter action could not be considered in Congress until the New Jersey Legislature approved the action and legislators in the State of New York had approved their state's entry into the Compact as well.
Therefore, in FY99 the department became an active participant in the States Ratification Committee, a multi-state group that met biweekly throughout the year, not only to keep the issue of Compact membership at the top of the Congressional agenda but also to convince that body to extend the life of the Northeast Dairy Compact beyond the October 1999 deadline stipulated in the federal Farm Bill of 1996. Both houses of Congress were expected to release bills supporting the membership of states not originally party to various dairy compacts, not only in the Northeast but in the central and southern parts of the nation as well.
Even as these critical legislative measures were being debated, the basic formula price (BFP) announced by USDA climbed steeply to a record high of $17.34 per hundredweight in December only to plummet by 37 percent between January and March, dropping the hundredweight price to a near-record low.
At the same time, the USDA issued its final decision on federal milk marketing order reform, thereby initiating the final phase of the federal order reform process mandated by the 1996 Farm Bill. The proposed restructuring reflected a general trend toward a market-oriented dairy sector. Following Congressional review, USDA planned to conduct referendums among producers in each of the newly consolidated orders with order changes, if approved, taking effect in October 1999.
The end of FY99 brought no resolution to either the dairy compact membership issue or the federal milk marketing order reforms. In fact, 168 Congressmen introduced a measure to overturn USDA's market order reform recommendation and replace it with a totally different pricing plan. There was also widespread disagreement about whether dairy compacts would bring needed stability and equity to the fluid milk industry with processors and consumer groups generally opposing compacts while producers tended to favor them.
Throughout the often contentious debate on these issues in the Northeast and in Washington, NJDA served as a knowledgeable and vocal advocate for New Jersey's dairy farmers.
Agricultural producers submitted more than 1,200 applications for $15 million worth of conservation projects in response to a new $2 million state conservation cost-sharing program for installation of water quality improvement practices. Of the $2 million, $1.6 million will be used for direct financial assistance with the remainder slated for technical assistance. An additional $650,000 in federal funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program will also be available for these projects.
In addition, the State Soil Conservation Committee, in conjunction with local conservation districts and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), finalized plans for the implementation of the $1.3 million Watershed Management Demonstration Project for DEP watershed planning areas 17 and 18 in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties.
The Upper Cohansey River, Oldmans Creek, Racoon Creek and Upper Salem River areas are targeted for installation of best management practices which will result in water quality protection or improvement. About 60 percent of the funding will be used to improve livestock management practices with such projects eligible for grants of up to 90 percent of actual cost. Other practices, such as nutrient management and erosion control, will be funded at 75 percent of cost.
During FY99, its third 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. Produce collected directly from farms
totaled 597,000 pounds, including 277,000 pounds of potatoes given to
other food recovery programs in the region for distribution.
FAH is a collaborative effort between NJDA, the New Jersey Agricultural Society, the New Jersey Farm Bureau and Rutgers Cooperative Extension. Funding is provided 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.
The New Jersey Agricultural Society's annual Farm Tour for Legislators highlighted Gloucester County this year. The tour focused on how New Jersey agriculture is positioning itself to compete in the global economy, the future of the industry and the young people who are committed to farming in New Jersey, new technology used in farming and the capital investment required to remain competitive. This year's event was co-sponsored by NJDA, the New Jersey Agricultural Society and the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders.
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