The New Jersey State Board of Agriculture has proposed rules that would govern what farmers can label as “Locally Grown.” New Jersey Farm Bureau President Ryck Suydam told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that having a specific definition will help customers trust their farmers more.
Suydam explained that some farmers are cheating the system by labeling produce as locally grown if it’s been grown somewhere in the Northeast. He said most New Jersey farmers want a definition for local. “We’re looking for a definition so that the public can then trust us when we say it’s locally grown, it’s here on this particular farm where they’re visiting, it’s in the state of New Jersey or within a 30-mile radius of the state of New Jersey,” he explained.
According to Suydam, the new labeling requirement won’t have tremendous implications for farmers’ incomes. “Are people gonna pay less for a Maryland watermelon than a Jersey watermelon? Maybe. But I want them to come back to me next week and keep coming to my farm and other farms. I gotta be truthful with my customers and truth in labeling is not unique to agriculture,” he said.
Farmers’ business often depends on the weather, which has been challenging in New Jersey this past year. Suydam said his farm produces hay, which needs sunlight. Since there were 21 days of rain in June, he said he is behind on production but getting by.
“For some of our fellow farmers here in New Jersey, all this rain has been difficult. If you’re raising squash, cucumbers, melons — and I’m talking a lot of South Jersey — too much of a good thing, the rain, has either washed out crops entirely or has created fungus issues where the vines die and the fruit is un-harvestable,” Suydam said. “It has been difficult to say the least.”
Weather issues have always affected farmers, but Suydam said there are ways to adapt. “A lot of vegetables today, for instance, are grown on raised beds with black plastic mulch and that gets them up out of the wet to a degree. That helps,” he explained.
Suydam said there is also a type of greenhouse that allows farmers to control the atmosphere and weather conditions to a degree and seeds that help fight conditions like drought, disease and mildew.
“The biggest one in wet weather is mildew — downy mildew, powdery mildew — and there are seed varieties that are developed to help resist that. So are we adapting? You bet we are,” Suydam said.