There are over 200 nurseries in Cumberland County, and last week New Jersey legislators received a tour of three of them — all family owned. For the farmers, it was an opportunity both to talk about their agricultural methods and share concerns with officials.
Ed Overdevest of Overdevest Nurseries wanted to talk about the state’s new minimum wage. The reset pay level itself isn’t a concern for him, he said, since his farm already compensates workers well above the $10 an hour that he has to pay. But the ripple effect of having to offer higher wages to all his employees could be a problem.
In order to cope, he expects farmers are going to have to do the same work with fewer workers, either through increased productivity or mechanization.
Jaime Grant, vice president of Halka Nurseries, had a related but different worry.
“It’s becoming harder every year to find good labor, that is willing to do all of the hard work that’s required,” she said.
Overdevest was also worried about a bill moving through the Assembly that would “prohibit the sale, distribution or propagation of certain invasive plant species without permit from the Department of Agriculture.” He said the measure might have unintended consequences.
New Jersey’s Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher says he’s been consulting with the Department of Environmental Protection on the bill. And, the chair of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Eric Houghtaling, says he wants to take another look to see if they can remove discrepancies.
“The nursery business is a very big business in the state. We want to make sure it stays healthy by addressing their concerns and taking another look,” said Houghtaling, a Monmouth County Democrat.
The lawmakers also stopped at Johnson Farms, a 2,000-acre nursery and sod producer that dates to 1921.