Agriculture Secretary Discusses State of Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

With New Jersey experiencing one of the driest years on record after a record-breaking 2011 in terms of precipitation and the farming industry struggling somewhat, many are worried about the quality of crops in the Garden State. New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the industry in the state and what he’s doing to ensure its future success.

Fisher said dry weather is better than extremely wet weather because farmers can use irrigation systems to make up the difference in moisture. “We’re not really under any danger,” he said. “Of course we’d love it if it was just a perfect season and it rained exactly when we wanted it to but if it’s going to be too dry or too wet, we’d rather have it be too dry.”

Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry in New Jersey, which is under pressure, according to Fisher. “Certainly when the building boom was at its height, we were seriously impacted and concerned, but obviously real estate development has slowed down a bit but we’re still under a watch because we’re still the most densely populated state in the country and there’s a certain amount of land we need to keep agriculture viable and alive in New Jersey,” he said.

Fisher is a former state legislator and freeholder who has served as secretary of agriculture under both Gov. Jon Corzine and Chris Christie. In the past, he said his goal was protecting the budget for the Department of Agriculture.

“Obviously you can always use more, but we’re able to do our job with the budget that we have,” Fisher said. “There are some areas where we’re right on the line and obviously we can’t lose any more money, that’s for sure.”

Fisher said the greatest challenge is promoting agriculture and making sure people know how to support local agriculture where they live, through venues like farmers markets and farm stands.