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Farmers Face Elimination of N.J. Agriculture Dept.

Wednesday, 27 Feb 2008 02:21 PM

By E. Ralph Hostetter

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The New Jersey farm community was surprised this week when rumors of the abolition of the state Department of Agriculture were confirmed in a budget speech given by New Jersey's Gov. Jon Corzine on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

The Cabinet level department that had served New Jersey farmers so well for a century or more was being abandoned in a move to cut state spending.

Rarely are spending cuts directed at removal of one of the parts of the state's infrastructure itself.

What is not surprising is that the unprecedented move was directed at the farmer and the occupation of agriculture. Perhaps it was the lack of understanding of agriculture brought about by the inexperience of a Wall Street numbers cruncher. Gov. Jon Corzine had been chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Company, a powerful Wall Street brokerage firm.

The farmer, as such, represents one of the lowest levels of electoral constituency in the nation, as farmers comprise less than 2 percent of the population of America.

At one time, farmers represented a substantial part of the voting power of the nation. But today, New Jersey's population of 8.7 million need pay little attention to a farm population of less than 10,000 farm families.

This is not to say the New Jersey farmer has an inferiority complex with respect to his way of life. On the contrary, he stands with the entire community of American farmers in his pride and love of the land and the flora and fauna that surround his daily life.

The New Jersey farmer seeks no special attention. He seeks only the fairness that is shown other segments of the working population of the state. He is, however, disappointed at the impending permanent abolition of his place in the Cabinet of the governor of the state.

During the century of its existence, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture grew in stature while providing guidance and assistance to the farm community as it developed agriculture into a nearly $1 billion industry.

To claim that the Department of Agriculture is a drain on the state's economy would border on the ridiculous.

The total budget for the NJDA for 2006 was $353 million, of which $328 million (93 percent) was federal funding. The state's portion of the 2006 budget was only $25 million (7 percent). Contrasted with the $1 billion farm economy, a $25 million state contribution doesn't register on the scale.

The outlook for New Jersey's agricultural future, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), is encouraging with New Jersey's farmers witnessing their cash receipts rise for the third straight year in 2006, a 6 percent increase over 2004, from $873.5 million to $924 million in 2007.

In 2007, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture accomplishments included:

  • Adoption of the state's school nutrition policy for all school districts

  • Supporting Gov. Corzine's Hunger Initiative with the donation of 4 million pounds of food

  • Training of 800 New Jersey farmers in food safety

  • Accreditation of NJDA by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct organic certifications

  • Promoting the agritourism industry which generated $57.5 million for state's farmers in 2006

  • Continued commitment to preserving farmland, adding 11,000 acres in 2007 to the present total of 162,335 acres

  • Addition of eight new community farmers markets to the more than 95 now in existence, operated by some 265 farmers

  • Continued building of the brands “Jersey Fresh Grown” and “Jersey Seafood”

    While the New Jersey farmer may be somewhat disappointed at losing his place in Gov. Corzine's Cabinet, sitting at the center of power and dining in the halls of the mighty, he will labor on in his work in the fields and the vineyards of the state as he always has.

    Year after year, the farmer takes pride in producing enormous surpluses that are used to feed the hungry of the world, quite unlike governments that operate at enormous deficits.

    As for the great savings in taxpayer dollars that Gov. Corzine hopes will accrue to government’s benefit in reducing the projected deficit the state faces, the estimates in budget savings will amount to a mere $300,000 to $400,000.

    Various sections of the present NJDA will no doubt be transferred to other departments.

    One story that has been circulated is that it would be merged into the Department of the Environment. This could hardly be so, knowing the disdain that environmentalists have for herbicides and pesticides, to say nothing of fertilizers themselves that sometimes become involved in violent storm runoffs.

    New Jersey ranks as one of the most taxed states in the nation at 49th.

    As a result of this, New Jersey is losing population and industry as well. Such legislation as the creation of the Highlands Act is further eroding New Jersey’s economy inasmuch as the act has brought major property devaluations in the counties that are affected.

    It would appear that the governor and the legislature of the state of New Jersey have far more important tasks ahead of them than to take the time and create the frustration brought about by the elimination the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

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