BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Looking toward the future of the state’s agricultural sector

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

Whether it’s new methods to grow crops or shopping for the latest farming equipment, the state’s Agricultural Convention and Trade Show is a way to educate farmers on how to adapt to change. Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fishers says that’s a critical part in maintaining Jersey’s agricultural sector.

“720,000 acres of farmland now, today, in New Jersey. The farmers also own farmer control of about a million acres between the woodlands that they manage and the farms that they grow crops on,” Fisher said.

Fisher says technology will influence farms of the future and change the way crops are produced over the next 10 years.

“Some of it is going to be the same and some of it’s going to be incredibly different. The tools that they’ll use will drastically effect how they farm and how they make sure that every square inch of their farm produces. Whether its drones. For cities it’s going to be vertically-integrated hydroponic operations that are inside buildings with LED lights,” he said.

And that technology could also assist in helping with a hazelnut shortage.

“A number of people had the foresight to start looking at the opportunities for hazelnut production. And what we do historically, like with any new crop, is work with farmers, understand everything form land suitability, how you grow the crop properly, how you harvest it, what the market opportunities are, and frankly what the economics of the crop could look like,” said Brian Schilling, director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

While hazelnut production in Jersey looks promising to farmers, what doesn’t is the new $15 minimum wage.

“The fact that we compete with other states when we’re in season, and if we have to pay more per hour than they pay then we’re at a competitive disadvantage,” said Art Galletta, owner of Atlantic Blueberry Company.

“Some people say we’re looking for cheap labor, but that’s not really the case. The case is that almost all of our workers are housed for free, free utilities,” said Paul Galletta, vice president of Atlantic Blueberry Company. “This is something that would be very, very critical for the farms to have. You know the tax credits, the cut out that they gave us, it’s probably not enough.”

It may be too soon to tell how the new minimum wage will impact the livelihood of farmers, but Fisher says what is important is that we support and take care of the farmland that we have now.