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Niederer tells farmers how to influence policy

AFP Correspondent

LINCROFT (April 1, 2016) — As if farming weren’t the 24/7 job it is, farmers need to also spend time making sure public policy is beneficial to farmers.
Some policy is in the form of bills before the state legislature and small farmers are well aware of the lack of success of some bills they have long supported, such as the raw milk sales bills.
New Jersey is also the only state without a cottage kitchen bill.
This doesn’t mean farmers can’t have an influence on policy, according to Jessica Niederer of Chickadee Creek Farm and the 2016 New Jersey Outstanding Young Farmer.
“The first step is showing up,” Niederer said as she urged young farmers to attend their county agriculture development board meetings and to get involved. “County ag boards are excited by new people,” she said, adding, “They are encouraged.”
“They talk as if it’s a dying industry,” she said of many older farmers, “but we (the young farmers) are revitalizing the industry,”
“There is a relationship between ag organizations and ag governance,” she said during a session at the NOFA-New Jersey Winter Conference in January.
“The Farm Bureau reports to ag board and keeps them really up on state laws,” she said.
Since she was speaking at an organic conference, Niederer confronted the elephant in the room.
“You have more in common with them than you know,” she said of older, conventional farmers, adding, “there is a conflict only if you allow there to be. And they know so much. They have closely held opinions, but they are not that conservative, the system is.”
She noted each young farmer is responsible for his or her own attitude.
Besides the county ag boards, other organizations have jurisdicution over farming.
“The Soil Conservation Districts have farmer members who look over Natural Resourced Conservation Service Plans,” she said. “In addition the State Agriculture Development Committee has four farmer members and they handle farmland preservation and conflicts. It’s almost like free legal services.”
Meredith Melendez of Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County also spoke at NOFA.
Her focus as an ag agent is supporting new and beginning farmers.
“The lowest level of government has the most restrictive rules,” she said, noting that Atlantic Highlands has recently banned backyard chickens.
Niederer pointed out local government can’t do an end run around the state’s right-to-farm legislation.
“A whole infrastructure of people said these (farming) practices are ok, a town can’t legislate around them like they can with other laws.”
Melendez noted a great deal gets done at the state Ag Convention each February, including the rules that out-of-state produce must be labeled as such.
Niederer said ideas need to be shared.
“Some things aren’t a consensus,” she said, adding “It’s not always enough to be one person,” by way of encouraging other young farmers to get along.
“Ideas need to be shared,” Niederer said.
“I know New Jersey farmers are smart,” she said, adding, “they understand climate change,” but, she noted when a motion was made at the Farm Bureau convention to suggest the bureau begin to assess the problem agriculture faces from climate change, there were only 13 affirmative votes.
Although she was met with some skepticism, Niederer seemed to energize her audience toward participation.