The United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue toured farms across New Jersey Monday to find out about the challenges farmers face and what the USDA can do to help.
Labor was one of the top issues that came up in Cranbury, one of the stops on the tour.
“Many vegetables are handpicked and need a lot of labor. That’s one of the things we’re doing at USDA: working with the Department of Labor over the H-2A program and Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to make it a better program for them,” Perdue said.
The secretary says the top three issues he hears from farmers across the country are similar to New Jersey concerns – trade, labor and regulations.
At Patterson Farms, they’ve been growing soybean crops for over 30 years. Tariffs were imposed on soybeans earlier this year.
“It’s impacted the price of soybeans, you know, through the negotiation process,” said Donald Patterson, the farm’s owner. “I think the pain is temporary. I think getting a more favorable balance of trade, or a fair balance of trade, in the long run will benefit all of us.”
“Farmers understand why the controversy with China goes on,” said Perdue. “I’m hoping China will see the error of its ways, as far as intellectual property theft and transfer, and where we can resume normal trading relationships.”
Another issue farmers are facing is too much rain, causing wet soil. It’s affecting the spinach crops.
“The lack of sun this year and the abundance of rain has affected all growers, regardless of the crop,” Patterson said.
You may ask how the secretary of agriculture can help with weather. Patterson says there’s a federal program called NAP, or the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
“That happens to be an insurance program for minor crops, such as spinach,” Patterson said.
He wants to make sure it gets included in the farm bill, which is the primary piece of federal legislation dealing with agricultural and food policy. It’s passed every 5 years or so and is currently in the process of being renewed.
“The work ethic and the values of the New Jersey farmers are the same we see all over the country. They have particular issues with direct marketing on fruits and vegetables and some challenges coming up through Canada,” said Perdue. “We’ll continue to work with them from the USDA perspective over the insurance programs they rely upon and try to get them the best benefit they can in being productive and profitable.”
The farm bill expired in September. The House and Senate passed separate versions of it and are working to find a compromise.
“These farm programs are okay until Dec. 8, and I’m hoping Congress, once elections are over, will come back and acknowledge we have to come together,” Perdue said.