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N.J. farmers review this year, look to future

PRINCETON — New Jersey farmers gathered for the 97th New Jersey Farm Bureau Convention to review the past year and formulate policies to be addressed in the coming year heard some good news about this season’s crops and looked into the future of the state’s agriculture.
Most farmers informally polled reported they had a very good season, with robust and healthy crops.
“Early rain followed by a dry summer discouraged pests and leaf mold, making for good-looking, flavorful crops,” said Ryck Suydam, president of Farm Bureau. “One farmer reported that his tomato crop was the best in his long memory.
Dr Jim Simon, director of Rutgers Department of New Use Agriculture & Natural Plant Products gave an impressive presentation on hybridizing several plants for enhanced flavors — strawberries, peppers, tomatoes — and breeding specialty crops for New Jersey’s diverse ethnic populations, focusing on African, Latino, Chinese and Indian markets — papaloquelite (crunchy onion), tigernut (coconut-almond taste, pressable for oil), new forms of catnip that repel insects, basil that resists downy mildew, oregano rich in oil and anti-inflammatories and others. Several of these will be released to market in 2016.
Many issues, such as conservation, water quality, environmental regulations, energy use and renewable energy were formulated into policies, of which 10 emerged that are of primary focus for the coming year:
1. Right to Farm is one of the most important state policies to encourage and maintain agriculture in the state.
2. Taxation, especially property tax, continues to take its toll on farmers. Despite reduced rates on land in cultivation, taxes on buildings and other land continue to rise, impacting farmers, along with every other state resident.
3. Wildlife: deer, bears, wild turkeys, and especially Canada and Snow geese are increasing and continue damaging crops. Fish and Game Council presented an update on the state of goose control, and the news isn’t good. The geese continue to increase and there are little successful means to control them.
Farmers can get depredation permits to shoot them at any time of year, but little else currently exists to repel them.
4. Soil Disturbance restrictions on preserved farmland, proposed last year by the State Agricultural Development Council (SADC), were tabled this year for further discussion. Delegates stressed that farmers need to use some soil for roads, buildings, terraces, reservoirs and the like.
5. Relief from Excessive Environmental Regulations is crucial for farmers. Since 1972 and passage of the Clean Water Act, the state Department of Environmental Protection has been assuming more and more authority over the use of land, water, plant, animal and other natural resources, many negatively impacting agriculture. While no one questions the need for environmental protection excessive and unnecessary regulations do not make for good relations between the agriculture community and the DEP. The policy adopted is intended to build dialogue and better relations between the two communities.
6. Labor Supply & Management are imperative for successful agriculture. Growers need reliable workers accustomed to farm work. Farm Bureau will continue to advocate for favorable guest-worker programs and legislation.
7. Farmland Assessment is the primary reason that New Jersey farmers can stay in business. Farm Bureau continues to monitor the program and work with legislature on any proposed changes
8. Ag Retention and Farmland Preservation have been key to farming viability. To date, more than 2,260 farms totaling more than 209,000 acres have been preserved to remain in agriculture in perpetuity.
9. Farm Viability is the overall goal of Farm Bureau, protecting farmers against excessive government regulation, burdensome taxes, wildlife damage, and heavy-handed land use regulations, while keeping farm-gate prices at levels that assure profitability .
10. Highlands have been on Farm Bureau’s radar screen since passage of the Highlands Act of 2004, with the bureau continuing to advocate for “fair compensation” to landowners harmed by the act that preserves more than 800,000 acres.