New Jersey farmers today deal with a complex and costly business — from heavy equipment that sprays crops or sorts blueberries to complying with an increasing number of regulations, said John Banscher, secretary of the New Jersey Vegetable Growers Association.
Farmers from across the state met Tuesday to kick off the New Jersey Agricultural Convention & Trade Show at the Trump Taj Mahal. The event runs through Thursday.
Here, vendors sell equipment and products from heavy-duty tractors to fertilizers and seeds. Farmers learn new techniques to efficiently run their businesses and deal with regulations from pesticide handling to sanitation requirements.
“You have to be so versed and educated, and we are, but the general public still has the same picture of a bib, overalls and a pitchfork in hand,” said Banscher, a farmer who took over his father’s farm in Gibbstown, Gloucester County. “We’re beyond that. We have (at the show) a large sprayer farmers use in large acreage to spray pesticides and herbicides — the medium-sized one is $310,000,” he said.
New Jersey’s 10,300 farms generated nearly $1.1 billion in cash receipts in 2011, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Fruits and vegetables accounted for more than $381 million.
At the convention, Doug Walker, president of Egg Harbor Township-based Water Today, was pitching the benefits of energy-efficient water wells.
Through changes in their construction and materials, as well as maintenance, wells have become more efficient, which can ultimately mean lower energy costs, he said.
“Energy costs are up, and whenever you move water, it has weight,” he said. “Do an experiment with two 5-gallon buckets and walk up the lighthouse in Atlantic City. These guys are pumping thousands of gallons a minute. … Every extra foot you have to pump water is costing you energy and money.”
Despite changes in technology, the biggest factor affecting farms remains the weather, Banscher said.
But new techniques seen at the show seek to mitigate some weather problems.
Banscher said a high tunnel, open-style greenhouse can stretch over acres of farmland, shielding crops from some of the elements.
“It’s a big and upcoming thing, these high tunnels, but it’s not a cheap investment,” he said.
“My parents always had a saying — dry years scare you to death and wet years starve you to death,” he said.
Due to the various expenses involved, Banscher said, agriculture in New Jersey now is mostly undertaken by farmers who pass them down to younger generations or by people with massive upfront capital.
Banscher said his parents bought a 65-acre farm with houses for $5,000.
“You couldn’t buy a utility shed now for $5,000,” he said.
The state Department of Agriculture says Gov. Chris Christie will speak at 7 p.m. tonight to more than 500 agricultural leaders at a convention dinner.
Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher will also deliver a State of the State of Agriculture address this morning about the changes in New Jersey agriculture, the department said.
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