Cutts’ law career shorted by desire for berry growing

AFP Correspondent

TABERNACLE (Feb. 1, 2016) — Bill Cutts, a retired lawyer from Burlington County, said he was surprised to be notified he was the recipient of the 2015 Arthur West Distinguished Service Award from the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
Cutts works with his brother, Ernest, his son Shawn and various other family members overseeing 29 cranberry bogs near Chatsworth in the heart of the Pine Barrens.
“I was surprised to receive the award because it seems to me there are a lot of people around New Jersey agriculture who do a lot more than I do. I’m 67, and I’ve been involved about 30 years now, initially helping out my father and my brother,” Cutts said.
“When I was younger we were actually bigger in blueberries than we were in cranberries, so I spent my summers working with blueberries,” he said. “We’ve now been out of blueberries for a long time. Years ago, we had cranberries too, but cranberries were more a fall activity. In my younger years, I was more involved in school. But in the fall I got involved with cranberries, and I started very young, when I was about six or seven,” Cutts explained by way of background.
Cutts went to Rutgers University-Camden as an undergrad and majored in political science. He then got his law degree from the same campus in 1973.
What prompted Cutts to want to pursue law?
“We were in cranberries and blueberries, and the future didn’t look all that great for cranberries at that time. It seemed to me that I should make preparation to do something else in life, so I did. I did work in law for a time in Moorestown, and then when the opportunity presented itself, I came back to the family business.”
Cutts and his brother are the third generation of Cutts Brothers to be involved in cranberry production, and now their sons are fourth-generation cranberry farmers.
The family began farming in Tabernacle. In the 1930’s his father and uncles began acquiring land in Bass River Township and began developing those tracts for cranberry production.
“It’s a grid of dams, we have 128 acres of bogs,” Cutts said, noting a popular misperception is that cranberry bogs are flooded all year round, when in fact they are only filled with water during harvest time in September for ease of harvesting, i.e., the cranberries float to the surface.
Pressed for advice for younger farmers or those considering getting into the business of farming in the Garden State, Cutts stressed the importance of teamwork, adding the cranberry industry is unique because they have a cooperative, Ocean Spray, that handles a majority of the fruit in the industry.
Cutts said his father’s decision to join Ocean Spray cooperative a few months before he was born in the spring of 1948 has made life easier for himself and his brother.
“The cranberry industry in New Jersey has shrunk tremendously, it’s probably less than 10 percent of the total crop that we produce here,” he said.
Of cranberry growing states, Wisconsin is No. 1; Massachusetts is second and New Jersey ranks third.
“Weather for us is a bit different than weather for many farmers,” he said. “Frost is a big issue because the bogs are much colder than the surrounding areas, and over the years, we’ve had frost every month of the year. We’ve had frost in July and in August.”
All the bogs have solid set underground irrigation, he said, “and we run the irrigation systems when we get frost. If you’re dealing with a mild frost, the warm water helps keep the air temperature up and for us, during frost season, it’s not unusual for us to have temps down in the mid-to-low teens and everything is covered with ice.
There’s a principal of physics, for water to turn to ice it has to give up heat and the water keeps the plant and the vines from freezing. It works the same way on blueberries and strawberries and oranges in Florida, but it gets a lot trickier when you start talking about tree fruit.”
One thing that concerns Cutts and countless farmers around the state is the cost involved for younger farmers to get up and running successfully. How to get the younger generations involved that weren’t born into farming families is a big concern.
“How you get these people interested in farming is the question,” he argued.
“The primary obstacle isn’t the occupation or the learning process, you can get that through places like Cook College and Delaware Valley College. The problem is the capital requirements to buy a seat at the table. I don’t have any magic bullets for that one,” Cutts said, “that’s the hard nut to crack.”
Given the median age of the New Jersey farmer is now 64, Cutts advises young people to seek out opportunities and find these farmers that are ready to transition into retirement. Comfortable financing agreements can often be arranged with their assistance.
“It’s a little tricky to find those farmers who don’t have sons or daughters who want to continue on the family farm, who want to enter into a long-term financing arrangement,” Cutts said.
“That’s certainly one way to do it. It’s a very difficult question.”