Cherry Hill hosts 96th agricultural convention
By KEVIN KAUFMAN
CHERRY HILL — Hundreds of representatives from county agriculture boards and commodities interests from across the Garden State gathered for the 96th annual New Jersey State Agriculture Convention on Feb. 8-9.
The two-day event featured listening sessions on hot button issues, wherein members from all segments of the agricultural community were given the opportunity to voice their opinions, share their experience and put forth recommendations about regulations or legislation which they feel need to be promoted or changed. Separate listening sessions were held on product traceability, farm labor, farm regulations and common sense, and farmland preservation and right to farm.
Elizabeth Mackay, senior policy advisor to Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, opened the farm regulations and common sense session with an overview of Gov. Chris Christie’s red tape review program, a bipartisan body of taxpayers and representatives from both the Legislative and Executive branches of state government.
On his first day in office in January 2010, Christie signed executive order one, which put a state-wide freeze on proposed regulations and asked departments to look at their regulations for compliance with the common sense principals of rule making that were laid out in executive order two.
Included in those principals of common sense were the concepts of advanced notice of rule-making (“Engage the stakeholders before a rule is even proposed,” said Mackay); federal pre-emption (“There must be a very good and well-defined reason for the state of New Jersey to have higher requirements in an area that the federal government also regulates”); and time of decision (“The rules that are in effect when you file an application are the rules that follow you through the process. The government is not going to move the goalposts”). The advanced notice of rule making concept is the principle that has been most widely welcomed and implemented, according to Mackay.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has incorporated the concept into its processes.
The commission, enacted under Christie’s Executive Order three, has already produced baleful results that include the shrinking of the New Jersey Register of proposed and adopted regulations from nearly 5,000 pages in 2009 to just over 3,000 in 2010.
From the floor, conventioneers shared their experience with red tape that included problems with labor regulations, water certification, pesticide record keeping, and issues with the Department of Environmental Protection’s seemingly overstepping its bounds.
“We’re making headway, but there is more to be done,” said Mackay. “We need you to tell us specifically what we need to do.”
To keep the conversations going, the commission is hosting a series of public meetings throughout the state.
On March 2, New Jersey City University will host a session focusing on licenses and permits. Thomas Edison State College will host a session on July 19 about red tape problems for small businesses (including farms) and not-for-profits. A third meeting has been tentatively scheduled for Rutgers-Camden on Sept. 21.
During the farm labor listening session, several farmers mentioned their frustrations with the federal H2A labor program that establishes a means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature; and New York farm operator Maureen Torrey Marshall gave her perspective on labor management issues and challenges.
In the two other listening sessions, Dan Vache of the United Fresh Produce Association commented on the “produce traceability initiative” and some of the costs associated with it; and Susan Craft of the SADC provided an overview of the current issues in farmland preservation and the right to farm.
The convention opened with “state of agriculture” remarks by New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher, and included a banquet speech by Governor Chris Christie’s chief of staff, Rich Bagger.
Presided over by Mercer County farmer Scott Ellis, president of the State Board of Agriculture, the convention also afforded breakout sessions for urgent issues like the status of horse breeding and racetrack resources in the state, and a full slate of individually voted on policy resolutions, most of which were adopted without debate.